A new world order at this World Golf Championship

By Doug FergusonMarch 10, 2011, 7:14 pm

WGC-Cadillac ChampionshipDORAL, Fla. – The top three players in the world ranking will be in the same group for the opening two rounds of the Cadillac Championship, the second time in five weeks for such a glamorous 1-2-3 punch. There is on notable substitution.

Luke Donald is in.

Tiger Woods is out.

And for most fans at Doral for this World Golf Championship, the main event will be one notch down the ranking for Woods, Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell.

Donald moved up to No. 3 two weeks ago in Arizona when he captured the biggest win of his career at the Match Play Championship. That puts him alongside Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood when the Cadillac Championship gets under way Thursday on the Blue Monster.

Donald doesn’t obsess over the ranking, although it’s hard to dismiss one fact.

“There’s only two players ranked higher than me in the world right now, and that’s pretty amazing to think about,” Donald said.

Even more amazing – Woods isn’t among them.

He had been No. 1 for more than five years until his shocking fall, on and off the golf course. Westwood was the first to replace Woods at the end of October, and then Kaymer replaced Westwood with his runner-up finish at the Match Play.

McDowell took over at No. 4, pushing Woods down to his lowest level since the week before he won the 1997 Masters.

Even so, there’s always something special about Woods and Mickelson, particularly at Doral.

They are the top two players of their generations, supported by the record alone. Woods has 82 victories around the world, including 14 majors. Mickelson is at 40 worldwide wins with four majors.

Their combined 18 majors is equal to the rest of the 69-man field at Doral combined.

“We don’t get paired together very often,” Woods said.

This will be the 27th time that Woods and Mickelson have been the same group, and only the fifth time it took place on Thursday and Friday of a tournament. The last three were either majors (2008 U.S. Open, 2006 PGA Championship), or a FedEx Cup playoff event (2007 Deutsche Bank Championship).

Mickelson, who played Augusta National on Tuesday, rested on the day before Doral. His caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, walked the course and met up with Woods early in his practice round.

“Bones and I were on the golf course today and trying to remember the last time it happened in a non-major,” Woods said of their pairing. “And he thought it was in ’98. So obviously, we don’t get to do it very often.”

That was the 1998 Nissan Open, the year it moved from Riviera to Valencia, the only time a Woods-Mickelson weekday pairing was done by a blind draw. And that streak continues, for there was nothing blind about this one.

The PGA Tour has been tweaking its pairings this year to make for interesting stories on television, perhaps to attract more viewers when it gets to the network coverage on the weekend.

Woods and Mickelson figured to be put together at some point, and it was coincidence that they were next to each other in the ranking. The twist is that neither is among the new “Big Three,” at least at the moment.

They first played together at Doral in the final round of 2005 when it was a regular PGA Tour event, and a sold-out crowd that approached some 50,000 turned the Blue Monster into a rock concert.

Mickelson took a two-shot lead into the final round, only for Woods to rally and take a one-shot lead into the final hole. Mickelson’s chip from just off the green to force a playoff caught the lip, and Woods won to return to No. 1 in the world.

A year later, they were in the final group of the third round when Woods shot 68 and took the lead, leaving Mickelson four shots behind. Woods went on to win the next day.

It was part of three straight wins at Doral, although victories haven’t been piling up for Woods in the last few years. He now has gone 15 months since his last win at the Australian Masters, right before his personal life imploded on Thanksgiving night with the revelation of extramarital affairs.

Mickelson, meanwhile, has not won since the Masters.

Who could have imagined that Woods and Mickelson would have one victory between them over the last 15 months?

Woods has not shown many signs that he is close to regaining his form, and the venue doesn’t help like it once did. He had won five straight times at Torrey Pines, then finished out of the top 10 for the first time ever. He had never finished out of the top 10 at Dubai, and wound up fading on Sunday into a tie for 20th.

Woods might continue to fall in the ranking if he doesn’t start playing better. As for no longer being No. 1?

“It’s about winning golf tournaments, and I haven’t done that,” Woods said. “There’s no reason for me to be up there at the top. You have to win golf tournaments and you have to do it consistently. Lee did it, Martin’s done it, and that’s what it takes.”

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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.”

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Phil's apology could have quashed incident days ago

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Better late than never.

Phil Mickelson’s mea culpa came five days after he turned the U.S. Open upside down. It came after an attempt to rationalize his mind-boggling efforts on the 13th green only made things worse, and four days after he opted to show up for the final round at Shinnecock Hills but declined comment on the imbroglio that nearly overshadowed Brooks Koepka’s successful title defense.

But finally, from behind a keyboard rather than in front of a microphone, he lent clarity to one of the strangest moments of a decorated career.

“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down. My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend,” Mickelson wrote. “I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”

It’s a statement that will hopefully serve as a coda to a controversy that bled into the first few days of the Travelers Championship. It’s also one that several players at TPC River Highlands believe Mickelson would have been well-served to issue in the immediate aftermath rather than attempting to inject intent into a momentary lapse.

“The problem was when he started to justify it,” said Graeme McDowell. “People were like, ‘Oh, did he kind of maybe try to do that on purpose?’ And then all of a sudden the integrity of the game starts coming into question. When if he’d have just said, ‘I lost my mind for a second. I can’t believe I just did that. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done on a golf course. Sorry, guys.’ If he’d have said that right away, it would have been over, finished, the end. And then no DQ comments would have come into it.”

Mickelson has spent the past 25 years staying one step ahead, be it with his comments to the media or his actions on and off the course. The man shows up to the Masters in a button-down shirt and elicits guffaws; the laughs died down the next month when Lefty revealed that he had taken an equity interest in the company and was quite literally benefiting from the attention his wardrobe choices had received.

But after being bludgeoned by a borderline setup on his 48th birthday, Mickelson appeared to have finally fallen victim to a fleeting moment of frustration. Not a premeditated attempt to save a shot, or to avoid further embarrassment ping-ponging across a crusty green. Simply a man driven to his breaking point for all the world to see.


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“As a player that’s been in that head space at that tournament, I can see it happening to people,” said Rory McIlroy. “Look, it’s a tournament that Phil has come so close to winning over the past few years. He’s probably seen what’s happened over the past few years at that tournament, and it’s frustrated him because it’s the only one that he hasn’t won. Plus, it’s probably becoming the hardest one to win for anyone because it is a bit of a lottery at times.”

Mickelson remains a man of the people, a flawed hero who goes for broke even after that mindset cost himself more than a couple tournaments. It’s a relatable and charismatic trait, one that helps weekend hackers stuck behind a tree feel a connection to a man who once turned a similar situation into a green jacket.

And having accrued more than two decades of positive equity by forging a path that other players don’t dare to take, Mickelson had more than enough margin for error to fess up after the putt-slap and avoid being pilloried.

But just as the cover-up is often worse than the crime, so too Mickelson’s decision to spin his actions Saturday afternoon – combined with his calculated decision to offer no further explanation after returning for the final round – only threw gas on the fire.

“It was very interesting. I didn’t understand it, and the USGA obviously didn’t understand what was all going on,” said Patrick Reed. “Phil, I don’t even really think he understood what was all transpiring at the moment.”

“I honestly think that he just tried to come up with a story to make it go away, and inadvertently caused the opposite reaction,” added McDowell.

Player opinion remains divided on several aspects of the Mickelson situation, and there are still those who believe Mickelson should have been disqualified for his actions, regardless of his intent or lack thereof. But the topic most players agreed on was that this situation won’t tarnish Mickelson’s overall legacy.

Eventually, the news will cycle out and Mickelson will continue his quest for a sixth major title without being dogged by a regrettable moment when he essentially channeled the impulse of a 10-handicap looking to escape to the next tee.

Even though questions will linger when he tees it up next at The Greenbrier, and likely again when the international press gathers at The Open, Mickelson will be well-served to have finally taken some ownership of a poor choice in the heat of the moment, rather than to attempt to explain it away as a calculated move.

It’s a tactic that likely would have proven even more beneficial under the heat of the spotlight at Shinnecock Hills. But better late than never.

“Why he tried to justify it, I’ll never know. Maybe he thought it was the right thing to do at the time,” McDowell said. “But I think as a golfer, we all understand the frustration, and just the mental lapse he had in that second when he did it.

“It was just Phil being Phil. Trying to apply science to madness.”

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A plan to avoid U.S. Open setup snafus

By Rex HoggardJune 20, 2018, 3:39 pm

It happened again.

It was an inexplicable turn of events after a decade and a half of vehement assurances that this U.S. Open would be different. In the months leading up to the 118th championship, USGA CEO Mike Davis explained that this time the technology was better and many contended that the association was better.

In 2004, the last time the U.S. Open traveled to the East End of Long Island things didn’t go well, with Shinnecock Hills’ greens going dark and dusty for a final round Davis called a “double bogey” for the association.

To be fair, last week’s sequel wasn’t that extreme - let’s call it a bogey - but it was no less baffling.

“It’s more the course, about how they set it up. Because Saturday was a total, it was like two different golf courses, practically, on the greens Saturday versus Sunday,” Jason Day said of last week’s U.S. Open. “I just wish they would leave it alone and just let it go. Not saying to let the greens go and let them dry out and make it unfair, I’m just saying plan accordingly and hopefully whatever the score finishes, it finishes, whether it’s under par or over par.”

There will be those who contend that Day and Co. - Ian Poulter was also a harsh critic - should simply toughen up, that demanding conditions are the price that must be paid if you want to win the U.S. Open. But that ignores the facts and the USGA’s own assessment.

“There were some aspects today where well-executed shots were not rewarded. We missed it with the wind,” Davis said on Saturday. “We don’t want that. The firmness was OK but it was too much with the wind we had. It was probably too tough this afternoon – a tale of two courses.”



The USGA missed it, again.

Perhaps this is the cost of wanting to play a golf course on the razor’s edge, where just a few warm gusts define the line between demanding but fair and over the top. Or maybe this is an issue of continuity.

Every year the R&A holds a championship and nearly every year we spend the days afterward celebrating a champion, not complaining about an unfair course or an incorrect weather forecast.

There are philosophical differences between the USGA and R&A when it comes to golf course setup, with our transatlantic friends wired to accept relatively easier conditions if the wind doesn’t blow. But maybe the R&A gets it right more often than not because each year they deal with a known quantity.

There are currently nine courses (assuming Turnberry returns to the fold some day) in the Open Championship rotation. The R&A will add Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, which last hosted the championship in 1951, to that rotation next year, .

Perhaps the R&A has been able to avoid the kind of setup snafus that have plagued the USGA in recent years (let’s not forget the substandard greens at Chambers Bay in 2015 or the last-minute landscaping in ’17 at Erin Hills) because they know, through decades of trial and error, what happens at Royal Troon when the winds gust from the North and what hole locations should never be used on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Similarly, the folks who run the Masters regularly get it right. They get everything right, from course setup to parking regardless of inclement weather or extreme conditions, because they’ve had eight decades to figure it out.

Only the PGA Championship travels like the U.S. Open, but then the PGA of America’s setup philosophy is more in line with that of normal PGA Tour events, with officials regularly erring on the side of the player, not some notion that par must be protected.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the U.S. Open that a more standardized rotation couldn’t cure. If, for example, the USGA were to follow the R&A’s lead and set a dance card of eight to 10 regular stops for the national championship they could create the kind of continuity and institutional knowledge that seems to work so well at the Open Championship.

What if Shinnecock Hills, which is among the best venues for the U.S. Open regardless of the setup miscues of ’04 and ’18, hosted the championship every decade? Officials would have a chance to better understand what works and what doesn’t, from golf course setup to traffic (which was just as bad as some of Saturday’s hole locations).

Pick your regulars, from Pebble Beach to Pinehurst, Winged Foot to Torrey Pines, create a rotation and learn whatever it takes to get it right once and for all.

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Mickelson: 'Not my finest moment ... 'I'm sorry'

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 2:41 pm

Days after his putter swipe ignited a controversy that threatened to overshadow the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson offered an apology.

Mickelson received a two-shot penalty for purposely hitting his ball while it was still in motion on the 13th green during the third round at Shinnecock Hills. In the eyes of the USGA, his actions fell short of a disqualification for a “serious breach” of the rules, and the 48-year-old ultimately matched his age with a T-48 finish after returning to play the final round.

Mickelson declined to speak to reporters after a Sunday 66, but Wednesday he sent a note to a select group of media members that included Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte in which the five-time major champ offered some contrition.

“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down. My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend,” Mickelson wrote. “I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”

Mickelson’s actions drew ire from both media members and his fellow competitors, with members of both groups implying that his actions merited disqualification. His most recent remarks seem to indicate that the decision to run up and stop his ball from tumbling back across the 13th green was more of an impulse than the calculated use of the rule book he described after the third round at Shinnecock.

“It’s certainly not meant (to show disrespect). It’s meant to take advantage of the rules as best you can,” Mickelson said Saturday. “In that situation I was just, I was just going back and forth. I’ll gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.”

Mickelson is not in the field this week at the Travelers Championship and is expected to make his next start in two weeks at The Greenbrier.