Mickelson looking for back-to-back wins

By Doug FergusonFebruary 17, 2012, 11:15 pm

LOS ANGELES – Phil Mickelson wasn’t at his best Friday at Riviera. Two shots at least helped him stay in the lead.

Despite having only two birdie chances inside 15 feet, Mickelson holed out from the eighth fairway for eagle and chipped in for birdie on the par-3 16th. That carried him to a 1-under 70 and a one-shot lead over Pat Perez in the Northern Trust Open.

Mickelson made three par saves from outside 10 feet, starting with his opening hole at the par-4 10th. He went from the front bunker to the back bunker, blasted out safely to 18 feet and curled in the par putt.

That set the tone for a day that only looked good on the scorecard.

“I probably didn’t play the greatest today, but I was able to kind of salvage a good round and had a good break on eight where I holed out from the fairway,” he said. “That was a nice little bonus.”

Perez had a tournament-best 65, without a bogey on his card, and he saved his best shot for the final hole. He hit his tee shot on the 18th and was too far right, the green blocked by the eucalyptus trees. Perez cut a 6-iron, hopeful of finding the green, and it wound up 12 feet away for a birdie he wasn’t expecting.

“I didn’t hit it like you’d think I would,” Perez said. “I didn’t drive it all that great. I just scrambled well. I put myself in the right places to make par or birdie.”

Mickelson was at 6-under 136, assured of being atop the leaderboard for the third straight round.

The group at 4-under 138 included Jimmy Walker (66), Carl Pettersson (70),Jonathan Byrd (70), Marc Leishman (69) and Matt Kuchar (69), who had a solid day without too much excitement until he drilled his tee shot to a back left pin on No. 6 and left himself 5 feet for birdie.

Before he could putt, he was stung by a bee in his arm.

“I haven’t been stung by a bee in probably 20 years,” Kuchar said. “I had stopped being scared of bees. The thing got me, and it was really painful. It was not much fun.”

Bubba Watson had a 69 and was in the group another shot back, while world No. 1 Luke Donald had a 72 and was only six shots out of the lead.

As usual, the 144-man field could not finish before darkness. Eight players will have to return Saturday morning to finish, with the cut likely to be at 3-over 145.

Mickelson and Perez will be in the final group, both of whom grew up playing each other in San Diego. This is different. Perez hasn’t missed a cut this year on the West Coast Swing, but has only one career win. Mickelson is going for his 41st, and trying to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2009 to win consecutive tour events.

Mickelson is coming off a big win last week at Pebble Beach.

“He’s playing well, and I’m going to have to play awful well to beat him this weekend,” Perez said. “I’m not worried about him. It’ll be fun to play with him, but I know that I have to play well out there to beat everybody else, as well.”

Joe Ogilvie delivered the shot of the day, making an ace on the 16th hole with a 7-iron. It was his third hole-in-one on the PGA Tour, and he has yet to win a prize. At least at a tour event, he didn’t have to buy drinks.

“There were 10 guys up there that looked like they could drink 1,000 beers,” he said. “I’m glad I didn’t do this at my club.”

He shot 71 and was at even-par 142.

Mickelson was on the ropes early until his great bunker-bunker par save on No. 10. The trouble was getting the ball close. Mickelson tried to hit a pitching wedge on the 13th and have it run toward the hole, but it checked up and left him 50 feet. On the 15th, he hit 8-iron to stop near the whole, and it released some 40 feet.

Lefty couldn’t get anything right until he got to the 16th, with a tee shot that just ran off the green about 30 feet away. He studied the chip from every angle, and before hitting the shot, leaned over to analyze a section of the green. It was softer, so that became his target with a low pitch that hit the ground quickly and ran to the cup like a putt.

“If I flew it another 5 feet, it was going to be firm, so if I flew it 5 more feet and brought it in higher, I thought it would have raced 15 feet by,” he said.

He ended both nines by missing par putts inside 5 feet, but the eagle atoned for that. Wary of how the greens were earlier in the round, Mickelson said he couldn’t afford his wedge on No. 8 to go long, so he played it out to the right with side spin, and it spun back into the hole.

“I put myself in contention heading into the weekend, which is what my initial goal was,” Mickelson said. “And so with 36 holes to go, I’m right in the thick of it. I’ve got to go out and shoot some low scores, because they’re out there. But I gave myself an opportunity.”

Tim Clark, meanwhile, was headed home after an 82 and a smile. It was his first tournament since The Players Championship because of elbow surgery he had five months ago.

“I felt pretty good, to be honest,” Clark said. “I’m quite surprised with how my body actually felt. I wasn’t able to score at all. In terms of the arm, and how the body felt, I was quite encouraged.

“The fact I could get through 18 holes without having any pain is quite nice.”

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”