Merion hands Mickelson more Open heartbreak

By Joe PosnanskiJune 17, 2013, 11:46 am

ARDMORE, Pa. – Phil Mickelson stood over his ball at the bottom of the hill on the last hole at Merion, and he tried to visualize the miracle shot. He has always been able to do this: Visualize the miracle,  and then do it in real life. No player in a generation, probably none since the swashbuckling Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, has tried so many audacious and ridiculous and fabulous shots as Mickelson and pulled them off. Flop shots, hooks around trees, slices from pine straw, chip-ins from everywhere.

This time, Mickelson needed the miracle shot. He had no other option. Mickelson trailed Justin Rose by one. He needed birdie on a hole that had not been birdied by anyone in two days. He needed to knock the ball in from off the green, some 30 yards away. Before he set up, he stood over the ball without a club, and he practiced a swing. Then he looked out at the green for a long time, as if watching an invisible ball roll toward the hole. Yes, he looked for a long time, and then tried the real thing.

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In real life, his ball did not go in the hole. And Rose won the U.S. Open.

Well, that’s not exactly right. Rose did not win the U.S. Open. He endured it. He survived it. That was the only way you could win at Merion. Rose might be one of the best ball-strikers in the world, but he made five bogeys on Sunday, had two putts on the lip that somehow dropped in and hit a breathtaking 4-iron on the 18th hole from almost exactly the same spot where Ben Hogan had once hit the most famous 1-iron in the game’s history. That left him at 1 over par. That made him the champion.

It should be said, even Rose’s brilliant shot on the 18th didn’t stay on the green.

Well, it was rough like that all week. There was talk coming into Merion that the golf course was too easy for a U.S. Open, especially after buckets of rain soaked it down and, supposedly, softened it up. The betting line was that it would take 8 or 9 under to win the Open, and some media types wondered if players might set scoring records.

“You must be very good golfers,” the world’s No. 2-ranked player, Rory McIlroy, said to those media members after Merion knocked him around. He finished 14 over par. The No. 1-ranked player, Tiger Woods, finished 13 over, his worst four-round score in relation to par ever at a major championship. Steve Stricker, as steady a player as you will find anywhere, hit a ball out of bounds and then, one shot later, hit another one out of bounds, this one a shank that seemed to come from right out of your local driving range.

“The pins were brutal,” an exhausted Hunter Mahan said.

“It was tricky out there,” Rickie Fowler said.

“Well, that was fun,” Ian Poulter tweeted sarcastically after finishing 11 over par.

But, at the heart of the story, as it often goes at the U.S. Open, was Phil Mickelson. It seems strange, given his daring style and birdie-infused game, that he has had so many tangles with the U.S. Open. The Open is supposed to lean toward the straight hitters, the grinders, the par-makers. And yet, time and again, Mickelson has put himself in position to win the national championship.

And time and again – heartbreak.

This week, maybe for a while, it looked different. He seemed loose. He did not even practice, instead going back to California to see his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation. He flew back, arrived in the wee hours of the morning Thursday, went right to the course and promptly shot 3 under to take the lead. He looked good.  He felt good. He talked about how much he loved the course. He talked about how well he was hitting it.

The stars seemed aligned. Even on a rough day like Friday, Mickelson kept it together and birdied the final hole to leave with good feelings. On Saturday, a day he missed chance after chance, he maintained the lead. Sunday was his 43rd birthday. Sunday was Father’s Day. Heck, even sportswriters were praying for Mickelson.

Then, on the 10th hole – after a rough start – Mickelson hit one of those miracle shots. He holed out from 76 yards for an eagle that gave him the lead. Madness. Mayhem. Mickelson leaped in the air – higher than he jumped when he won his first Masters in 2004 – and raised his arms above his head. He had finished second at the U.S. Open five times, an unkind record. Now … finally … maybe …

“It would have changed the way I look at this tournament entirely,” Mickelson would say.

But Merion – oh, Merion. This just wasn’t the place for fairy tales. This was a place where putts slid by, where balls buried in the rough, where out-of-bounds lines seemed to line the fairways. If Merion could talk, it would sound like Darth Vader. If Merion could drive, it would cut you off in traffic. If it were a cartoon, it would be Jessica Rabbit. “I’m not mean,” it would say, “the USGA just made me that way.”

And so, in the last eight holes, Phil Mickelson alternated between disasters and disappointment – on the 12th hole he thought he’d made the birdie putt but he didn’t. On the 13th, he pulled the wrong wedge – he had five wedges to choose from – and hit his shot over the green, a terrible shot that led to a terrible bogey. On the 14th, he made a death-defying par with the only longish putt he sank all day. On the 15th, his ball found the green, but this being Merion he STILL had to chip the ball because of the angle, and he made bogey again. On 16, he was sure he made his birdie putt, but the ball did not go in.

All the while, Philadelphia fans groaned with him and ached with him and crashed with him.

“If I had won today,” Mickelson would say when it ended, “or if I ultimately win, I’ll look back at the Opens and think that (finishing seconds so many times) was positive. …”

And here Mickelson paused for a second. He has always said, with a great deal of certainty in his voice, that he will win the U.S. Open someday. But, now – lost in the sadness of the moment – he did not sound so positive. He’s 43. Time runs away. And Merion took a little bit of his heart.

“If I never get the Open,” he continued, “then I’ll look back and think … every time I think of the Open, I just think of heartbreak.”

In the end, Mickelson went to the 18th hole needing birdie, and he drove the ball into the rough. His second shot ended up short of the green, and that was where he stood and tried to visualize a miracle shot. He took that imaginary swing. He watched that imaginary ball.

Only he knows if, in his imagination, the ball dropped in the cup.

My guess is no. The ball did not drop for Mickelson at Merion, not even in dreams.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.

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Knox relishes round with 'mythical figure' Woods

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Russell Knox was expecting the worst and hoping for the best Thursday at The Open.

Playing with Tiger Woods tends to have that effect.

The native Scot received a treat earlier this week when he saw his name on the tee sheet alongside his boyhood idol, Woods.

“Felt good out there, but obviously my swing, it was just like I had too much tension,” Knox said after an opening 73. “I just wasn’t letting it go as normal. First round with Tiger, I expected to feel a little bit different. The way I felt was better than the way I swung.”

Knox said that he was nervous playing alongside Woods, a player he’d only encountered on the range. “He’s almost like a mythical figure,” he said.

But after a while, he settled into the rhythm of the round at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I thought it would be worse,” he said, “I feel like I should know what I’m doing. It’s cool playing with Tiger, but I’ve got to get over that. I’m here to win, not just enjoy my walk around the course.”

Knox probably had more interaction with Woods than he anticipated, if only because the third member of the group, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, keeps to himself because of the language barrier.

“It’s kind of a blur,” Knox said. “It’s like, Oh, I’m chatting away with Tiger here like normal. I don’t even remember what I was saying.”

There have been countless stories from this year as the next generation of players – guys who grew up watching Woods dominate the sport – get paired with Woods for the first time.

It was no less special for Knox on Thursday.

“It’s nice for him to say things like that,” Woods said, “and we enjoyed playing with each other. Hopefully we’ll play a little bit better tomorrow.”