Mickelson looking to make U.S. Open history

By Damon HackJune 11, 2013, 6:47 pm

ARDMORE, Pa. - Phil Mickelson scaled the old stairs of the old clubhouse and ducked into the small room above the library.

His second practice round at Merion was behind him and he was looking to wrap his arms around history.

A stack of Ben Hogan ashtrays – with the Hawk wielding his 1-iron – sat on a shelf to his left. In front of Mickelson an array of vintage clubs, their once shiny faces gone dull.

And behind him, on a large table, a guest registry book for those who take the time to visit the Merion Golf Club archives.

Mickelson, right-handed in everything but golf, grabbed a pen and signed his name: “Phil Mickelson, Rancho Santa Fe, California.”

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Mickelson took in one last look at the memorabilia and disappeared down the stairs, where an onlooker wished him luck at the 113th United States Open, one of the few pieces of golf history he has been unable to wrap his arms around.

“Thank you,” said Mickelson, and then he was gone.

Like Sam Snead before him, Mickelson has never won the U.S. Open, but he is as much a part of its fabric as many of its winners.

He has finished runner-up five times, the first in 1999 when Payne Stewart held Mickelson’s head in his hands and told the soon-to-be-father that nothing would beat the feeling of being a dad.

In 2002, at Bethpage Black, the Cult of Mickelson was born as New York’s faithful put Phil on its shoulders as it tried – and nearly succeeded – in lifting him above Tiger Woods.

There was the three-putt on the 71st hole of the 2004 Open at Shinnecock Hills that ended his chase of Retief Goosen.

There was another mad dash at Bethpage in 2009, where Phil tried to bring the trophy home to his wife, Amy, who was in the throes of her battle with breast cancer.

And, of course, there was Winged Foot, in 2006, the one that stung him the most, shocked the golf world and stilled another New York gallery.

The sight of Mickelson crouched low on Winged Foot’s final green graced the cover of several magazines and at least one book.

The sound bite heard ’round the world – “I am such an idiot” – became a part of the game’s lexicon.

Phil recovered well enough, with another green jacket in 2010 plus 11 more PGA Tour victories besides.

But the U.S. Open has gone wanting, a championship that would elevate him from a Hall of Famer to an immortal.

During his two-day sojourn to Merion last week, Mickelson looked loose and happy.

Between the practice days, he attended a large dinner that included Matt Kuchar, Baltusrol head pro Doug Steffen and a number of movers and shakers of the Philadelphia golf scene.

Mickelson commands a room the way he commands a greenside bunker, ever confident in word and in deed, comfortable throwing some jabs and parrying them, too.

He was born in San Diego, but Mickelson has always been a better fit back east, where chattiness, a love of sports and a sharp wit make you a welcome guest in any home.

Mickelson once said that the greatest thing about being a Masters champion is the knowledge that every spring Augusta National’s doors will be open to you. It’s a lifetime ticket to golf’s most exclusive club, a locker upstairs, and a seat at the Champions Dinner, no reservation required.

Mickelson has sometimes awakened long before his Masters’ Thursday tee time, just to be present for the dawn tee shots of Arnie, Jack and Gary.

But the perks of winning a United States Open are no less important, the survival of golf’s most rigorous examination, the claiming of our national championship, the knowledge that you have walked where Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer have, where Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino have, where Tom Watson and Woods have.

Mickelson will celebrate his 43rd birthday on Father’s Day, a happy coincidence of the calendar that makes his chase of a U.S. Open all the more poignant.

His first of three children was born the day after Payne Stewart gave him that sage advice. His swing remains long and fluid, his nose for a golf hole as attuned as it has ever been.

And Mickelson’s yearning for golf history is endless, which is why he lingered in Merion’s archives, knowing that a little piece of Hogan and Bobby Jones lives in that room, and that if things go right this week, he will have left more than a signature in a guest book. 

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Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the season-ending Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin: