Another American almost

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2011, 7:35 pm

SANDWICH, England – Phil Mickelson and the Open Championship normally go together like chocolate brownies and lemonade. Yet there he was Sunday at Royal St. George’s, with a renewed attitude toward links golf, draining putts like we’ve rarely seen in major championship history.

Dustin Johnson’s game seemed more suited to win the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship. Yet there he was in contention to win the game’s oldest major, making this the third time in the last six major championships that Johnson had victory within grasp.

Mickelson drew even and Johnson stood within a shot of Darren Clarke at different points in the final round of the Open Championship. The stars and stripes had an opportunity to stop all the talk of major American drought. It had two of its most dynamic players, in contention with nine holes remaining, trying to beat a 42-year-old man from Northern Ireland who had attempted to capture the claret jug 19 previous times.

Turns out, Uncle Sam is leaving England empty-handed. A country of 1.8 million people has won three major tilts since the last time the U.S. – a country of more than 300 million people – has won one. The last time an American won a major was Mickelson’s emotional victory at the 2009 Masters.

If you bleed red, white and blue this one should hurt as much as any.

Mickelson entered the final round five shots behind Clarke and was considered a long shot to make a charge. He had talked all week about how he wanted to erase the memories of Opens past and treat this week like it was his first.

The approach was, as they say here in southwest England “proper.” Mickelson took his swashbuckling style through nasty weather and posted a front-nine 5-under 30 – that included an eagle at No. 7 – to get within two. A birdie at 10 turned Royal St. George’s upside down because the four-time major championship had somehow maneuvered to within one.

The highest of the highs then turned into the lowest of the lows. When Mickelson was not trying to make birdies, he was making birdies. Once he tried to make birdies, he made bogeys.

The unraveling began when he missed a 2-footer for par on the 11th hole. From there, Mickelson was never the same.

“There was nothing to it,” Mickelson said. “It was just a dumb mental error. I just lost focus there, and it hurts to throw shots away like that when I’m behind.”

Bogeys followed at 13, 15 and 16 and what looked like a potential Mickelson victory, turned into a challenge to finish second. That’s Lefty in a nutshell, entertaining to the bitter end.

“The putter let him down all week,” said Butch Harmon, oddly enough, swing coach for both Mickelson and Johnson. “He made a few, then down the stretch it just went away.”

Johnson’s Waterloo came in more dramatic fashion than Mickelson’s.

Ultimately, this won’t be remembered for being as big as Bunkergate at last year’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. It won’t even be in the same ballpark as the meltdown last summer at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. But Johnson threw away a chance at winning the Open Championship on the par-5 14th hole.

Standing in the middle of the fairway, Johnson hit his 2-iron second shot way right, sailing out of bounds. It was the first week all year that Johnson has carried a 2-iron.

Johnson had made birdie on No. 12 to get within two of the lead and birdie on No. 14 – the only true birdie hole remaining in the round – would’ve put immense pressure squarely on Clarke’s broad shoulders. But Johnson pressed and tried to hit a low runner up the fairway in hopes of it rolling onto the green.

“Out here you don’t really get too many opportunities to make birdie so it was definitely a go situation,” Johnson said. “If I had to do it over again I’d hit a 3-wood instead.”

Sure, there was a stiff wind, but that shot was unacceptable, especially when you’re playing alongside Clarke, the guy you’re trying to beat. It was essentially a match-play situation and Johnson blinked first.

“It’s a tough shot,” Harmon said. “You’re trying to chase a low hot iron up there and bounce it up on the front of the green and you just don’t pull it off. He’s trying to win.”

These are the opportunities that Americans must seize. A country the size of Nebraska is dominating professional golf. If three people from the Cornhusker state won three of the last six major championships, it’d be one of the biggest sports stories in the U.S.

Instead, one of the biggest stories in golf is that, in Tiger Woods’ absence, Americans cannot find a way to succeed in the game’s grandest stages.

Most players – from both the U.S. and internationally – say that it’s just cyclical, that the U.S. has been dominant before and will be again. That’s true. But, like Woods himself in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ major championship record, the longer you go without capturing the next major, the more difficult the quest becomes.

“You can’t go back and replay it,” Harmon said. “You have to take a positive from this.”

Perhaps. But Mickelson and Johnson both had prime opportunities to capture major glory and tied for second place, three shots behind Clarke, who bogeyed the last two holes. Before the week began neither man was on the radar, but they ended the week there and faltered. Meanwhile Northern Ireland walked way with another major championship.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 23, 2018, 3:00 pm

Tiger Woods has a three-shot lead entering the final round of the Tour Championship and is alongside Rory McIlroy in the final group. We're tracking him.

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Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

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McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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Glover trails Straka at Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

With the top 25 earners in the four-event Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

The series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.