Mickelson: Back fine, game rusty

By Jason SobelJanuary 30, 2014, 10:10 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Phil Mickelson effortlessly bounded up the hill behind TPC Scottsdale’s ninth green early Thursday afternoon, that familiar perma-grin still affixed to his face despite a final-hole bogey.

The bad news was that it concluded an opening round of even-par 71, 11 strokes higher than his first day here at the Waste Management Phoenix Open a year ago. The good news was that any sign of a lingering back injury had melted away under the desert sun.

If there were still questions following a round that didn’t include any wincing, cringing or grimacing, Mickelson answered them quickly, succinctly and repeatedly afterward.

“Honestly, it's no big deal,” he explained. “It was a five-minute fix. I just have to be careful for a week or two as it heals up. It's fine. Mobility is back. It's just not a big deal.”

But … it was bad enough that you were forced to withdraw from last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, then fly cross-country to receive treatment.

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“It was no big deal. I did what I needed to do last week and gave it a few days to rest up and get fixed by [specialist] Tom [Boers], and now I feel great.”

But … it could have hampered your preparation for this week’s event, keeping you from playing your best game in the opening round.

“The game just was a little rusty. I made some careless swings. Hitting it in the water on 12 was just pathetic, and playing the last five holes at 3 over when I had the round going ... that was really bad.”

But … it sort of looked like you grabbed your lower back after that first swing of the day on No. 10.

“No, it felt good. Yeah, it's really nothing serious. It was a five-minute thing. It's fine.”

But … it must leave you worried about long-term prospects in a year when you’ve publicly stated a goal of finally winning the U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam.

“No, it happens every now and then. Last time was about four years ago. ... It's one of those things. It's not a big deal.”

But … you can’t be very optimistic about your chances this week after so many players went low in ideal conditions.

“It doesn't feel far off. The back feels great. I should be able to come out tomorrow and hit a good round.”

To summarize: The back injury heard 'round the world wasn’t a big deal and is pretty much almost totally completely fine now.

The golf game, though, hasn’t quite caught up.

After a pair of pars to start his morning, Mickelson pulled his tee shot on the par-3 12th hole into the greenside water hazard and made double bogey. He bounced back with birdies on his next two holes, then went on a bit of a red-number binge, adding five more in his next 10 holes.

As he alluded, however, the lefty closed with three bogeys in his final five holes, including a failure to get up and down from the bunker on his final hole before effortlessly bounding up that hill behind it.

The numbers – including the final tally of 71 strokes – weren’t too impressive, either. Mickelson found only five of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens in regulation, and needed 30 putts – a half-dozen more than this day a year ago.

It could have all been explained away by a back injury. Even just a mild inconvenience that prevented him from preparing the way he would have liked.

Instead, the three-time tournament champion just explained it away as golf, confident in the knowledge that he’ll have another opportunity to turn it around on Friday.

“I felt like it was going to be a good day, a good tournament, and to let those shots fly are disappointing,” he said. “I have to come out tomorrow and get a really hot round going to get back in this.”

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Fleetwood fires 63, waits to see if score is enough

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 8:52 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Tommy Fleetwood became the sixth player to shoot 63 at the U.S. Open, and just the second to do it in the final round. Now he waits.

Fleetwood teed off almost 2 ½ hours before – and six strokes behind – the leaders at Shinnecock Hills on Sunday, but stormed into the hunt thanks to four consecutive birdies starting at the 12th hole. The Englishman’s round was even more impressive considering he didn’t birdie either of the layout’s par 5s.

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Fleetwood finished at 2 over par – after missing a 9-foot putt for birdie and 62 at the 18th – which was tied for second place and one stroke off the lead held by Brooks Koepka when he completed his round.

After speaking with the media, Fleetwood went to the locker room to await a possible playoff, which was changed this year from an 18-hole overtime to just two holes of aggregate play.

“We'll go and relax a little bit and just see,” said Fleetwood, who rolled in 159 feet of birdies putts. “Only time will tell what's going to happen today at the course. If it was like yesterday, I'd feel a little more comfortable than now.”

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Fowler follows 84 with 65, praises Shinnecock setup

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 5:44 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – As promised, the USGA dialed back Shinnecock Hills for Sunday’s final round, watering the greens overnight and deferring to more user-friendly hole locations.

The evidence of this was on the leaderboard, with four early finishers having shot under-par rounds, including Rickie Fowler, who closed with a round-of-the-week 65. There were just three under-par cards on Saturday.

“That's the golf course I enjoy playing. Obviously, pin placements were a lot safer,” said Fowler, who had just one bogey on Sunday and opened his day with a 4-under 31 on his opening nine. “The pins today will definitely allow for the greens to firm up and get fast, and we'll see how much they dry out. It was definitely more receptive this morning than yesterday, that's for sure.”

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It was a 19-stroke turnaround for Fowler, who ballooned to a third-round 84 on Day 3 during what most contend were the week’s toughest conditions. Fowler had put himself into contention going into the weekend thanks to a second-round 69, but struggled on Saturday afternoon like much of the field.

Fowler said the setup was vastly different to what players faced on Saturday and that even if the winds increase for the afternoon tee times the course will remain playable, unlike Round 3 when many players said the USGA “lost” the golf course.

“They did a good job of staying safe,” Fowler said, “because if it does dry out, it will still be very playable.”

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Phil celebrates par on 13, ducks media after round

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2018, 5:35 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Phil Mickelson didn’t have another meltdown at the U.S. Open.

Back on the 13th green Sunday – less than 24 hours after taking a two-shot penalty for hitting a moving ball and recording a sextuple-bogey 10 – Mickelson poured in a 10-footer and raised his arms in mock triumph, as if he’d finally won that elusive major title.

Not quite.

He’d simply made par.

“It looked like he won the Masters,” said playing partner Rickie Fowler. “He didn’t jump, but he had a little celebration there.”

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The par save and the final-round 69 were one of the lone bright spots during what was an adventurous week for Lefty, even by his unpredictable standards. Mickelson’s shocking swat was still the talk of this Open, especially after USGA executive director Mike Davis revealed Saturday night that Mickelson had called him to ask for more clarification on the rule he said that he knew he’d broken.

Despite some calls for him to withdraw from the tournament, Mickelson displayed his usual cheerful demeanor inside the ropes with Fowler.

“He joked about it right as we went down the first hole,” Fowler said.

Fowler said that he didn’t know “if I would have had the wits like Phil to run after it” on 13, but added that it never should have come to that in the first place.

“He could have saved himself a shot by just letting it go and taking unplayable, but then that would still look pretty funny too,” he said. “The course shouldn’t play that way.”

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

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USGA slows greens, alters hole locations for Sunday

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2018, 3:29 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – After admitting that it went too far with the setup Saturday at the U.S. Open, USGA officials made some modifications for the final round.

In a statement released Sunday morning, the USGA said that it watered Shinnecock Hills’ greens an “appropriate level” and slowed down the surfaces nearly a foot on the Stimpmeter.

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That was in anticipation of a sunny, dry forecast that calls for temperatures to reach 80 degrees and wind gusts up to 20 mph.

They said the setup for the final day is similar to what was used in Round 1, when officials braced for 30-mph winds.

Some of the hole locations were also adjusted based on the forecast – changes, the USGA said, that were meant to “maintain a challenge yet fair U.S. Open test.”