Getty Images

Rosaforte Report: The Phil-Tom Brady connection

By Tim RosaforteMarch 5, 2018, 7:20 pm

Jimmy Dunne was playing with Tom Brady and Rory McIlroy at Seminole on Sunday when he predicted a Phil Mickelson-Justin Thomas playoff in the WGC-Mexico Championship. Afterward, the club president got a text from Brady saying, “You called it Dunne man.”

The scenario at Chapultepec is what the 40-year-old Brady faces every week in the NFL. At 47, Mickelson is 23 years older than Thomas. But age didn’t matter, or if it did, it mattered in Mickelson’s favor. He looked past the 2017 Player of the Year and FedEx Cup champion in the drawing of straws, and made par on the first hole of the playoff for his first win in 102 tournaments, a streak that goes back to the 2013 Open Championship.

The Patriots would have retired Brady had he gone that long without a victory, but this is golf and Mickelson kept making Cup teams and using those as motivation. As Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk told me recently, “You could see it in Phil’s eyes, hear it in his voice.” The same way with the same desire that Brady shows every season.

Mickelson and Brady had been friends before Dunne invited them to Augusta National prior to last year’s Masters, but that’s when they really hit it off. Brady would throw spirals to Mickelson outside their cottage and they discussed the concept of sports science that Brady believes in, where ‘overload, overload’ is a way of creating body speed. Whether it’s throwing a bullet to Danny Amendola or smashing a 300-yard drive on the PGA Tour, it’s what coaches in the NFL and PGA Tour call ‘using the ground’.

Phil worked hard this offseason, but didn’t want anybody to know how hard. When I called in early January he didn’t want a big deal made out of his condition (under 220 pounds) or ball speed (currently in the ballpark with Alex Noren, Jamie Lovemark and Rickie Fowler at 172.89 MPH).

People, opponents, media would have expected too much – especially after splitting with swing instructor Butch Harmon and caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay. All he would share was, “I’m physically a lot stronger. I’ve been practicing and working to get my game sharp. I don’t know how it’s going to start out, but I’m very optimistic.”

Based on his winter, with three top-six finishes on the West Coast, that included a second-place finish at Pebble Beach, Mickelson was already right where he wanted to be in peaking for the Masters. The win in Mexico validated the work he put in to get his game back.

This is Phil’s 27th season on Tour. It’s also his third with swing coach Andrew Getson and second with brother Tim Mickelson on his bag. One year older than when Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters, Phil heads into Augusta predicting, “there’s a lot more to come.”

I talked to Dunne early Monday, who concurred, “TB feels exactly the same.”

A real game-changer for India?

Shubhankar Sharma didn’t get the win he wanted, but the experience of playing with Mickelson on Sunday in the WGC-Mexico Championship was valuable. The 21-year-old native of India returned home for his country’s national open this week in Delhi after witnessing Mickelson’s hall-of-fame lesson on how to close for the 43rd time.

Prior to Sunday, there was some debate as to whether a victory by Sharma would have been a game changer for golf in the world’s second-largest country, with 1.3 billion people.

“Everybody thought when I won, it was going to be a big deal,” said Arjun Atwal, the first player from India to win on the PGA Tour. “But nothing really happened in India. Even though it was a really big deal, our country is so big and so overpopulated, how do you get through to the masses, because nobody really follows golf? I hope (Sharma’s performance) does in any small way, but we’ll see.”

Atwal followed in the footsteps of Jeev Milkha Singh, who won 20 events as a pro including four times on the European Tour. Atwal did what Singh could never accomplish, winning the 2010 Wyndham Championship by a shot over David Toms.

Anirban Lahiri has recorded the best finish by an Indian player in a major (T-5 in the 2015 PGA) and became the first native of India to compete in the Presidents Cup (2015 and 2017). He saw the performance by Sharma as the biggest game changer there’s been so far – but that was before his final-round 74. Coming off wins in the Joburg Open and Maybank Championship, the test will be how Sharma rebounds from a T-9 finish in his first WGC.

“He’ll have a huge reception back home regardless of what happened,” Lahiri said. “We’re all so proud of him.”

Wie's body of work

Knowing she’s a chronic tinkerer, David Leadbetter made a bet with Michelle Wie about whether she would make changes to what they worked on over the winter. He wasn’t talking about the color of her hair.

Leadbetter wouldn’t give me the amount, only going far enough to say it was “substantial.” He had been getting text messages from Wie even before her victory in the HSBC Women’s World Championship saying, “I’m still doing it. The bet looks good.”

What exactly did they change that led to Wie’s first win in 1,365 days? To take pressure off Wie’s torso and back, Leadbetter modified Wie’s leg action, softening her stiff right knee through impact. That created more control of a left-to-right ball flight.

“She’s still taped up like a boxer,” Leadbetter said. “But the major goal, trying to produce action that doesn’t put stress on her body and create injuries.”

Although not the longest player on the LPGA, Wie is still a big hitter so they also focused on wedge play, keeping the blade squarer through the ball. From a putting perspective, they went with more performance drills rather than technical instruction. While it’s early, Wie leads the tour in putting average with 26.45 putts per round that includes the 36-footer she made on the 72nd hole to win by a stroke. She did this with three different putting grips in the final round, but that was not part of the bet.

They worked together in January at the Bears Club near Wie’s home in Jupiter, Fla., and again before Wie headed to Thailand.

“I could see this coming,” Leadbetter said. “If she can just stay healthy, I think she’ll have a fabulous year.”

I Love the '90s, fashion edition

This week’s Valspar Championship won’t be Tiger Woods’ first competitive trip to the Innisbrook Resort. In 1996, Woods and Kelli Kuehne finished second in the JCPenney Mixed Team Championship.

Kuehne and her brothers, Hank and Trip, grew up playing AJGA and USGA amateur events, with Kelli winning the U.S. Junior Girls, two U.S. Women’s Amateur titles and the British Ladies Amateur.

“We were both just kids,” Kelli said of her ’96 teammate. Kids with a lot of money: Kuehne was recuited by Tiger’s father Earl to sign with IMG, which negotiated a six-figure deal for Kuehne with Nike.

I talked to Kuehne from her home in Texas on Monday. Her favorite memories of that week include the contest she had with Tiger over who would wear the most Nike logos, plus the pleated pants and men’s extra small golf shirts that draped over her since Nike didn’t have a women’s line back then.

“They were so gigantic,” Kuehne said. “When you look at them on Facebook, they’re pretty amazing.”

Getty Images

Ko (68) off to best start of year at Kia Classic

By Randall MellMarch 23, 2018, 12:39 am

Lydia Ko didn’t take long to put last week’s missed cut behind her Thursday at the Kia Classic.

She got off to her best start of the year.

With a 4-under-par 68, Ko was tied for seventh, just two shots off the lead, with the afternoon wave off at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif.

“I would say I didn't hit the ball fantastic, but just being able to hole some good birdie putts was key,” Ko said.

Ko scrambled her way to her low opening round of the year in light rain. She hit just seven of 14 fairways and 11 greens, but only needed 25 putts.

“This is a pretty tough golf course,” Ko said. ”I think putting is a huge key around this course, where if you do miss a green, making those clutch par putts and then making those birdie opportunities that you get.”

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Aviara’s poa annua greens have been known to give players fits, but Ko had her flatstick working. After making the turn at 1 over, she made five birdies on her second nine.

Ko, 20, won at Aviara two years ago but missed the cut there last year.

“I love Carlsbad,” Ko said “I would say it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s nice to come back to a place where you’ve played well and love the area.”

Ko, seeking her first victory since July of 2016, has her new coach, Ted Oh, working with her in Carlsbad this week. Oh made the trip to Asia last month, helping Ko to her tie for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship. But, she missed the cut in Phoenix last week in her next start.

“All I can do is try my best,” Ko said. “Hopefully, I'll be able to keep this good momentum going.”

Getty Images

Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 2

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 12:32 am

Here is how things played out on Day 2 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play. Click here for Day 1 match results:

Group 1: Adam Hadwin (38) def. Dustin Johnson (1), 4 and 3: After a dominating performance at last year’s Match Play, where he never trailed in any match, Johnson is already mathematically eliminated. He got routed on Thursday by Hadwin, after the Canadian built a 2-up lead at the turn and then poured it on with wins on the 11th and 13th holes.

Group 1: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Bernd Wiesberger (52), 5 and 4: Kisner made three consecutive birdies midway through the front nine to set the tone, then kept the pressure on Wiesberger, who knocked off DJ on Wednesday, to earn the full point and stay in the mix to advance.

Group 2: Justin Thomas (2) def. Patton Kizzire (48), 3 and 1: After DJ’s early exit, Thomas now has a clear path to world No. 1, if he can win the Match Play this week. Thomas did his part, improving to 2-0 after taking a 3-up advantage and then making birdie on 16 and 17 to close out Kizzire. That sets up a winner-take-all match against Francesco Molinari on Friday.

Group 2: Francesco Molinari (21) def. Luke List (60), 3 and 2: Molinari dropped seven birdies on List and won the 13th, 14th and 16th holes to move to 2-0 this week.

Group 3: Chez Reavie (43) def. Jon Rahm, 1 up: On the verge of surrendering a big lead against Rahm, Reavie’s par on 18 was enough to secure a 1-up victory. He led 3 up with three to go, but Rahm birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to send the match to the last. But there, from just short of the green, Rahm hit his pitch shot well past the flag and couldn’t make birdie. Now 0-1-1, Rahm, last year's finalist, is now eliminated.

Group 3: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Keegan Bradley (63), 1 up: Bradley once again kicked away a late lead. One day after coughing up a 2-up lead with three to play, he squandered a 1-up lead with three to play against Aphibarnrat. Bradley made bogey on 17, then was stymied behind a tree after his drive on 18. Barnrat rolled in a 15-footer for birdie to improve to 2-0.

Group 4: Jordan Spieth (4) def. Haotong Li (34), 4 and 2: Spieth held up his end of the deal, winning the fifth hole with a birdie and never trailing from there. He poured it on late with the Chinese star, winning the 13th, 14th and 16th holes. He'll play Reed, his Ryder and Presidents Cup partner, on Friday in a winner-take-all match.

Group 4: Patrick Reed (19) def. Charl Schwartzel (49), 1 up: In a wild match that saw that only three halved, Reed hung on to defeat Schwartzel, 1 up. Two up with three holes to play, Reed lost the 16th, escaped with a bogey halve on the 17th and then was out of position on the final hole. But he nearly holed his wedge shot, rattling the stick and leaving his ball on the front edge for a conceded birdie and narrow victory.

Group 5: Cameron Smith (46) def. Hideki Matsuyama (5), 1 up: One down with five to play, Smith won the 14th with a par, then chipped in for birdie on 16 to take a 1-up lead. At 2-0, he’s now in control of the group.

Group 5: Patrick Cantlay (30) def. Yusaku Miyazato (53), 1 up: In control throughout, Cantlay bogeyed the 17th hole to return the match to all square. On the home hole, he busted a drive to the front-left corner of the green, then made birdie to win and improve to 1-1.

Group 6: Rory McIlroy (6) def. Jhonattan Vegas (44), 2 and 1: Needing a victory to avoid an early exit, McIlroy won two consecutive holes before the turn and then added a win on 13 to give himself the cushion he needed down the stretch, holing a 6-footer for par on 17 to close out Vegas. McIlroy now has a chance to advance with a victory over Harman on the final day of pool play.

Group 6: Brian Harman (18) def. Peter Uihlein (57), 4 and 2: Harman never trailed in knocking off Uihlein, who soundly defeated McIlroy on Day 1. With 1 ½ points, Harman is in the driver’s seat, but he needs at least a halve against McIlroy on Friday (and a Uihlein loss) to advance.

Group 7: Sergio Garcia (7) def. Dylan Frittelli (41), 2 up: All square with six holes to go, Garcia birdied 13, won 14 with a par and then drove the 18th green for a conceded birdie to close out Frittelli, the former Texas Longhorn, and improve to 2-0 this week. He'll play Schauffele in a winner-take-all match on Friday.

Group 7: Xander Schauffele (20) def. Shubhankar Sharma (62), 3 and 1: Schauffele improved to 2-0 this week by thoroughly handling Sharma, the darling of the recent WGC-Mexico event, never leading by fewer than 2-up on the back nine and playing 3 under.

Group 8: Jason Dufner (42) def. Jason Day (8), 3 and 1: Dufner took down one of the pre-tournament favorites with a steady closing stretch. Five of his six wins came after Day bogeys, but Dufner turned an all-square match on 14 tee into a 3-and-1 victory.

Group 8: James Hahn (56) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 3 and 1: Hahn jumped all over the South African, winning the first three holes and never holding less than a 2-up lead on the back nine. With his victory, each player in the group has a 1-1 record.

Group 9: Tommy Fleetwood (9) def. Kevin Chappell (33), 7 and 6: Avenging an opening-day loss, the Englishman won the first four holes and needed to make only three birdies in a monster rout of Chappell. The 2017 Presidents Cupper made five bogeys and conceded two other holes but still has a chance to win the group.  

Group 9: Ian Poulter (58) def. Daniel Berger (26), 2 and 1: Playing this event for the first time since 2015, Poulter improved to 2-0 on the week with a solid victory over Berger, one of many young American up-and-comers. Using the same putter that he put in play at the epic 2012 Ryder Cup, Poulter won three of the first four holes and never backed down. He is guaranteed at least a playoff Friday. 

Group 10: Paul Casey (10) def. Kyle Stanley (45), 4 and 2: A winner at the Valspar, Casey stayed hot in Austin, taking a 3-up lead at the turn and improving to 2-0 this week. He needs only a halve on Friday to advance.

Group 10: Russell Henley (51) def. Matthew Fitzpatrick (31), 2 and 1: Shaking off a narrow loss to Casey on Wednesday, Henley took control of an all-square match by winning the 12th and 14th holes and then rolling in a tricky 25-footer on the 17th green to put away Fitzpatrick. Still alive in pool play, Henley needs to beat Kyle Stanley, and hope Casey loses, to force a playoff.

Group 11: Bubba Watson (35) def. Marc Leishman (11), 3 and 2: Coming off an impressive opening victory, Watson erased an early deficit, then won Nos. 12-14 to put away Leishman, who is now eliminated. Watson is guaranteed at least a playoff Friday.

Group 11: Branden Grace (23) def. Julian Suri (64), 2 and 1: After a shaky start, Grace made four birdies over his last 11 holes to knock off the surprise Day 1 winner, Suri, who was the last man into the field. Watson is still in control of the group heading into the final day.

Group 12: Tyrrell Hatton (12) def. Brendan Steele (36), 3 and 2: All square through 12 holes, the Englishman made four birdies and an eagle over his last eight holes to improve to 2-0 this week. Hatton needs only a halve Friday to advance.

Group 12: Alexander Levy (55) def. Charley Hoffman (22), 1 up: Levy led from the sixth hole, but Hoffman slowly cut into the deficit and took the Frenchman to the final hole. Levy’s par was enough to notch his first point and stay alive in pool play.  

Group 13: Alex Noren (13) def. Thomas Pieters (39), 5 and 4: Noren made quick work of Pieters in what could be a match of future Ryder Cup teammates. Noren built a 4-up lead after seven holes and then cruised from there, moving to 2-0 this week and eliminating Pieters. In 30 holes this week, Noren has made 12 birdies and no bogeys.

Group 13: Tony Finau (29) def. Kevin Na (61), 3 and 2: In a contrast of styles, the powerful Finau birdied the first three holes and never looked back against Na, setting up a battle of unbeatens in a winner-take-all match on Friday.

Group 14: Phil Mickelson (14) def. Satoshi Kodaira (40), 1 up: Four down through seven holes, Mickelson was on the verge of being eliminated before running off a series of wins, including on 16 and 17 to push the match to the final hole. Then, on 18, he pitched to 8 feet and drained the birdie putt to complete the remarkable comeback.

Group 14: Charles Howell III (59) def. Rafa Cabrera Bello (17), 3 and 1: After knocking off Mickelson on Day 1, Howell pulled away from Cabrera Bello late, winning the 14th, 15th and 17th holes – only one of which with birdies – to take control of the lead. At 2-0, Howell is assured of at least a playoff.

Group 15: Webb Simpson (37) def. Pat Perez (15), 3 and 1: Matched up against the fiery Perez, Simpson seized control of the match with wins on the 11th and 12th holes, sank a 20-footer on 15 and then won the 17th after Perez put his tee shot in the hazard. Now 1-0-1, he’ll have a winner-take-all match against Kim on Friday.

Group 15: Si Woo Kim (50) def. Gary Woodland (24), 5 and 3: Kim won the first hole and never looked back, grabbing a 3-up lead at the turn and leading by as much as 5 up after 12 holes. He is now 2-0. 

Group 16: Matt Kuchar (16) def. Yuta Ikeda (47), 1 up: Though he wasn’t nearly as hot as in his opener against Johnson, Kuchar played solidly, going 3 under (including concessions) and making par on 17 to edge ahead of Ikeda and eke out a narrow victory. 

Group 16: Ross Fisher (27) def. Zach Johnson (54), 2 up: After a remarkable comeback against Kuchar to earn a halve on Day 1, Johnson couldn’t summon the same magic on Thursday. Though he won the 15th to cut Fisher’s advantage to 1 up, Johnson couldn’t convert birdie putts on the last three holes.

Getty Images

Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 12:20 am

Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
(1) D. Johnson: 0-2-0 (2) J. Thomas: 2-0-0 (3) J. Rahm: 0-1-1 (4) J. Spieth: 2-0-0
(32) K. Kisner: 1-0-1 (21) F. Molinari: 2-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat: 2-0-0 (19) P. Reed: 2-0-0
(38) A. Hadwin: 1-0-1
(48) P. Kizzire: 0-2-0 (43) C. Reavie: 1-1-0 (34) H. Li: 0-2-0
(52) B. Wiesberger: 1-1-0
(60) L. List: 0-2-0 (63) K. Bradley: 0-1-1 (49) C. Schwartzel: 0-2-0
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
(5) H. Matsuyama: 1-1-0 (6) R. McIlroy: 1-1-0 (7) S. Garcia: 2-0-0 (8) J. Day: 1-1-0
(30) P. Cantlay: 1-1-0
(18) B. Harman: 1-0-1 (20) X. Schauffele: 2-0-0 (25) L. Oosthuizen: 1-1-0
(46) C. Smith: 2-0-0 (44) J. Vegas: 0-1-1 (41) D. Frittelli: 0-2-0 (42) J. Dufner: 1-1-0
(53) Y. Miyazato: 0-2-0 (51) P. Uihlein: 1-1-0 (62) S. Sharma: 0-2-0 (56) J. Hahn: 1-1-0
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
(9) T. Fleetwood: 1-1-0 (10) P. Casey: 2-0-0 (11) M. Leishman: 0-2-0 (12) T. Hatton: 2-0-0
(26) D. Berger: 0-2-0 (31) M. Fitzpatrick: 0-2-0 (23) B. Grace: 1-1-0 (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
(33) K. Chappell: 1-1-0 (45) K. Stanley: 1-1-0 (35) B. Watson: 2-0-0 (36) B. Steele: 1-1-0
(58) I. Poulter: 2-0-0 (51) R. Henley: 1-1-0 (64) J. Suri: 1-1-0 (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
(13) A. Noren: 2-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson: 1-1-0 (15) P. Perez: 0-1-1 (16) M. Kuchar: 1-0-1
(29) T. Finau: 2-0-0 (17) R. Cabrera Bello: 1-1-0 (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-1 (27) R. Fisher: 1-1-0
(39) T. Pieters: 0-2-0 (40) S. Kodaira: 0-2-0 (37) W. Simpson: 1-0-1 (47) Y. Ikeda: 1-1-0
(61) K. Na: 0-2-0 (59) C. Howell III: 2-0-0 (50) S.W. Kim: 1-0-1 (54) Z. Johnson: 0-1-1
Getty Images

Players lament 'meaningless' Friday WGC matches

By Rex HoggardMarch 23, 2018, 12:17 am

AUSTIN, Texas – The drawback of round-robin play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is that 20 players will tee off on Friday with no chance to advance to the knockout stages.

Although those who haven’t won or halved a match heading into the final day of pool play can still improve their finish, which means more FedExCup points and earnings, they can’t make it to the weekend, which for many makes it somewhat meaningless.

“Knowing that you are playing a match that you might get 2 more FedEx points and $20,000 or whatever it is. It's tough. It's hard,” said Rory McIlroy, who is 1-1-0 and can advance to the weekend if he wins his match on Friday against Brian Harman.

“You try to go out with the mindset that I'm going to maybe try things or if you are working on your golf swing, it's a good round to take advantage of trying different things,” McIlroy said. “[But] there's going to be guys going out there tomorrow that would really just want to be on a plane tonight going home.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Even more curious, there will be players with no way of moving on who will dictate who does make it to the weekend. Matthew Fitzpatrick, for example, is winless this week and will play Paul Casey on Friday. If Fitzpatrick wins it will set up a playoff scenario between Casey, who is 2-0-0, and either Russell Henley or Kyle Thompson, who both have one victory, to decide who advances out of the pod.

“It's not technically meaningless,” Casey said. “But it's frustrating when you know you can't possibly win the golf event. None of us turn up here to gain some points. It's to try and win an event.”