Mickelson leads Woods Watney in China

By Doug FergusonNovember 7, 2009, 4:13 pm

HSBC Championship

SHANGHAI – Tiger Woods stalled with pars. Phil Mickelson poured it on with birdies.

The back nine Saturday at the HSBC Champions changed names atop the leaderboard, as Mickelson made three birdies over the last five holes for a 5-under 67 that took him from a two-shot deficit to a two-shot lead over Woods and Nick Watney in the final World Golf Championship of the year.

What didn’t change was the excitement level at Sheshan International, especially with what awaits on Sunday.

Mickelson and Woods will be in the final group Sunday for the first time since 2005, that famous “Duel at Doral,” when Woods rallied from a two-shot deficit in the final round to win.

Mickelson, who was at 14-under 202, was the only player among the top 18 on the leaderboard Saturday to break 70. He made three birdies in his opening five holes and three birdies over his last five holes, his lone bogey coming at No. 9 that provided what he hopes is a good sign. Trapped in the bushes, Lefty inverted a wedge and blasted out right-handed to the fairway.

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He hit a similar shot at Doral this year when he went on to win his first World Golf Championship.

“I thought that might have been a good omen, even though it led to a bogey,” Mickelson said.

Woods appeared to be in control with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 10th to build a two-shot lead. That was his last birdie of the round, however, as he twice missed good birdie chances in the final hour and closed out a frustrating round by hitting into the rough and the bunker on the par-5 18th and having to save par. He wound up with a 2-under 70.

“I didn’t take advantage of the par 5s and 16, I hit it in their stiff and missed that one,” Woods said. “Consequently, I was three shots worse. That’s about right.”

Woods and Mickelson also were paired in the final round at the Masters this year, when both lit up Augusta National with birdies until they ran out of holes. They also played together in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2007, which Mickelson won by four shots, although they weren’t in the final group.

And they will have company Sunday – and Mickelson’s view, not just in the final group.

Watney continued to fall farther back with a three-putt bogey on the 17th, but he finished with a bang. The 28-year-old rolled in a 50-foot eagle putt on the last hole for a 70 and left him tied with Woods, and it gave the first WGC event in Asia an All-American – for that matter, an all-Californian – final group.

“I thought I played pretty well overall, considering it was my first time playing with Tiger in a tournament, and I was happy that I was able to concentrate and play the shots I needed to play,” Watney said. “Hopefully, at only two back, I might have a shot at the tournament, and I really can’t wait.”

Ryan Moore, who played alongside Woods and Watney, had a 70 and was at 11-under 205.

The best round belonged to Lee Westwood, who leads the Race to Dubai on the European Tour and did himself a huge favor by running off eight birdies in his 65. Westwood was at 10-under 206, and now can consider winning his first WGC event.

“This is a golf course that you can make up a lot of shots over a round,” Westwood said.

Mickelson didn’t have to make up that many, starting only one shot out of the lead. He was briefly tied for the lead on a couple of occasions with birdies early in the round, then seemed to stall on the back nine.

He came to life in the final hour, however. It started with a lob wedge he had to throw up into the strong wind, leaving him a 6-foot birdie putt. Then came a drive he smashed through fairway at the 15th, giving him only a 9-iron to 15 feet and another birdie that had Mickelson singing on the way to the next tee, “Somebody’s got his putter back.”

He missed opportunities on the next two holes, then finished with a pitch that brought an enormous gallery surrounding the 18th green to its feet. Woods had a good view of it all in the group behind him, but he couldn’t answer.

The last time they competed against each other was the Tour Championship six weeks ago, when Mickelson won at East Lake with newfound confidence in his putting stroke, and Woods captured the FedEx Cup trophy.

Only one trophy is at stake Sunday.

“I know we are both looking forward to it,” Mickelson said. “I think it will be a fun day, and we’re excited to be playing in the last group here in China.”

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.