As Tiger returns to competition so does Mickelson
After an absence of just over eight months, as speculation intensified whether his best golf was behind him, he now looks as good as ever and has helped bring some buzz back to the PGA Tour. He might even be considered the favorite at Augusta National.
Welcome back, Lefty.
About the only thing better than the return of Tiger Woods is the revival of Phil Mickelson, renewing this generations best rivalry with the Masters right around the corner.
Mickelson wasnt really gone, of course, but it sure seemed that way.
He was the one player who had the most to gain when Woods had season-ending knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open and disappeared for eight months. The stage was set for Mickelson, for the first time in his career, to win a PGA Tour money title, be voted player of the year, perhaps move up to No. 1 in the world.
And then he vanished.
Mickelson opened with a 79 at Royal Birkdale, the first major without Woods, and was never a factor.
He never broke par at Oakland Hills in the PGA Championship.
He didnt win a single tournament the rest of the year, and really came close only twice.
Few other players truly relish competition against Woods, and you have to wonder if golf is as much fun for Lefty without Woods around. He doesnt buy into this. Asked at the 2004 Masters what it was like to have the lead with Woods nine shots behind, Mickelson smiled and said, It doesnt suck, I can say that.
Even so, the timing is peculiar.
The week Woods announced his return to competition, Mickelson had rounds of 63 and 62 at Riviera to win the Northern Trust Open, his first victory since the month before Woods won his 14th major at Torrey Pines.
Playing in the same 72-hole event with Woods for the first time since the U.S. Open, Mickelson went wire-to-wire at Doral to win the CA Championship. He closed with a 69 on Sunday, despite spending a few hours in the hospital the night before with a stomach virus.
The victory moved him to No. 2 in the world, which is where he was when Woods left, and has put him closer than ever to No. 1. Depending on how Woods does at Bay Hill next week, Mickelson could have a mathematical chance to reach the top when he next plays at the Shell Houston Open.
The question is how long Mickelson can keep this going ' and how soon before Woods hits his stride.
Woods went 68-68 on the weekend at Doral to finish in the top 10, but there was no cause for alarm. His swing looked as sound as ever, and he had every chance to contend except for his putting. The rust of being out for eight months showed in his inability to post a score.
For someone who finished eight shots behind, he appeared to be at peace.
I have not controlled the golf ball that well in a very long time, and that was fun, Woods said after the third round. I was hitting shots that I had not been able to hit before, which was such a great feeling. Im just not making any putts.
After his victory, someone asked Mickelson if he felt Woods would be in peak form sooner than some expected.
I dont think anybody is concerned about that, Mickelson said. Hes the greatest player of all time, arguably, he or Jack (Nicklaus). And hell get back to that level. Im hoping its in five weeks and not four.
That was a reference to the Masters being four weeks away.
Both will play one more tournament before then ' Woods at Bay Hill, Mickelson at Houston ' and no telling who will be atop the world rankings when they sit down for the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night at Augusta National.
What excites Mickelson are tee shots that are going longer'and straighter ' than he can remember, and producing a short-game DVD that forced him to keep it simple for the consumers. It allowed him to go back to the basics, and his short game was superb at Doral.
Plus, he said he has finished making changes with swing coach Butch Harmon, and now is simply fine-tuning everything.
Im playing some of my best golf, said Mickelson, whose 36 career victories include three majors.
This could get good over the next few months.
For all the talk over emerging young players like Anthony Kim and Rory McIlroy, and despite Padraig Harrington going for a third straight major at the Masters, these are the two names that drive golf.
Woods transcends the sport. That much was clear by the size of his gallery, even when he was never in weekend contention. But every star needs a foil, and no one plays that role like Mickelson.
Mickelson had history in his grasp three years ago at Winged Foot, when Woods father died and he sat out two months, returning at the U.S. Open only to miss the cut for the first time in a major. Mickelson had a chance to win his third straight major until throwing it away with a double bogey on the last hole. He has not contended for a major since.
Woods is on the rebound again, this time for health reasons.
Mickelson is hitting his stride.
Golf was without its biggest star for eight months. Now it has two of them back.
Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite
Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.
Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.
Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.
Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:
12/1: Dustin Johnson
16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose
20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm
25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods
30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed
40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton
50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick
60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson
80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele
100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen
Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC
If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.
Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.
Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.
There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.
There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.
Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.
John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.
Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.
Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.
Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.
“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”
Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.
“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”
But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.
“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”
Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.
Hoylake in 2006.
That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.
So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?
“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”
With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?
“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”