Phil Gives It Six More Years
But Mickelson is the man of the hour, with two wins the last two weeks. Hes taking this week off while the rest of the PGA Tour pitches camp at Riviera. Hell be back the following week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, and it will be most interesting to see how he does over 18 holes, head-to-head, against the best in the world ' and that includes Tiger, who wasnt in the field when Mickelson was winning at Phoenix and Pebble Beach. The final match in the Match Play, should he get that far, will be mano-a-mano for 36 holes.
They will all be there for that one, all except Els, who again is expected to enjoy a vacation in his native South Africa. That will be the first good read on The Phil, who now has 25 victories ' same as a man named Hogan, incidentally, at age 34. Hogan then had a breakout year and won 13 in his 35th year, and that seems well out of Mickelsons reach in 2005. Phil only plans to play in about 20 total this year.
Mickelson says, though, that his win total at the moment is the last thing on my mind. Ditto any such honors such as, say, the Hall of Fame. But he plans to go full-bore for the next few years to see how good a player he can be. Makes one wonder what has been his commitment the first 12 years of his career, but that could be just a minor point. Perhaps he means he just now fully understands his game, and now hes ready to put all that knowledge to good use.
The way I look at it right now is that Im 34 years old, he said, and I have committed myself right now until Im 40 to unquestionably play as hard as I can and to try to get as much out of this game and my career as I possibly can. I want to win as many tournaments and as many majors (as I can), and Im working very hard - even on my weeks off - to get my game sharp.
Its still questionable what will be the difference when he gets to be 41 ' the same age as Singh is now. Mickelson has a wife and three young children, and the inference is that when he is 40, he possibly will devote more time to them. By then, the kids will be aged 11, 10 and 7. But he plays only 20 tournaments a year now, meaning he already has 32 weeks off, plenty of time to play with the youngsters, it would seem. Be that as it may, he says the years from 34 to 40 will be his peak years.
When Im 40, Ill analyze what I want to do and start thinking about stuff like that, he said, meaning the Golf Hall of Fame. But for the next six years, I unquestionably want to be committed to winning tournaments.
Why the fixation now on winning golf tournaments? Well, there are some who say that he has become as skilled a player as there is in the world. He has become affiliated with a couple of skill coaches such as Rick Smith and Dave Pelz. And he simply wants to see what he can do.
I think last year when I started working on 150 yards on in, my distance control got much, much better, he said, explaining the difference in pre-Phil and post-Phil.
Ive heard great players in the past say the key to playing good golf was being pin-high (after the approach shot to the green). And last year was when I really started to notice that had become a strength in my game. I feel like it started in January of last year, and progressively has gotten better to this point.
Mickelson is mentioned in the rarified air of the Big Four ' meaning Singh, Woods, Els and himself. But he dislikes the term. The Big Four should be more like the Big Ten, according to him.
I think the concept of a Big Four is not entirely accurate now, he says. I feel like theres a number of top players outside of the four guys.
Dont get me wrong ' its nice to be referred to as one of those four. But with Reteif Goosen playing so well, and with Sergio Garcia making some nice strides and winning a couple of times last year, Todd Hamilton stepping up and winning the British, Padraig Harrington playing so well - we have so many guys that I feel its not really fair to just single out four, because there are a lot more than four who are playing at the highest level.
And the vast majority of the time, Sundays are devoted to beating five or six guys, not just one. Its still rare that that one will be another of the so-called Big Four. But Mickelson said he still gets a thrill out of the chance to play one of the sports biggies.
I enjoy the challenge and opportunity to compete against guys like Tiger and Retief and Sergio and Ernie ' guys who are such wonderful players, he said. We in golf dont have the type of head-to-head atmosphere like we have in tennis, where everything is a head to head match. We only get it at, lets say, in the Match Play, or the Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup.
Now is the time for Phil, and these are the years. At 25 wins and counting, he has a golden opportunity to lay down some pretty impressive victory totals. Lets see what happens.
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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause
AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.
The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.
“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”
Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.
As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.
“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”
Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid
AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.
Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.
“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”
Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.
“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”
Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.
“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”
This week, let the games(manship) begin
AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.
What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.
During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.
“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”
Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.
“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].
Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.
Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.
“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”
Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.
“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”
While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.
But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.
“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”
It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”
McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”
It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.
“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.
Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.
Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana
While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.
The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.
"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."
Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.
According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."
"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."
Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.
Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Web.com Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.
"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."
Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.