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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Levy wins Trophee Hassan for fifth European Tour title

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 6:32 pm

RABAT, Morocco - Alexander Levy finished with a 2-under 70 Sunday to win the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco by a shot from overnight leader Alvaro Quiros.

One off the lead overnight, Levy made two of his four birdies in his first five holes to hit the front and stayed ahead for the rest of the final day at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam course.

It was the 27-year-old Frenchman's fifth European Tour victory and he will take winning form to Beijing next week when he defends his China Open title.

Levy ended 8-under 280 overall, one ahead of Spain's Quiros, who closed with a second straight 72.

Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II

With his chasers pushing hard, Levy kept his cool after dropping a shot on No. 16. He birdied the short, par-3 No. 17 and made par at the last.

Quiros birdied his last two holes to make sure of second place outright. He needed an eagle on No. 18 to force a playoff.

A group of four players finished in a tie for third, including Italy's Andrea Pavan, who finished with a brilliant 6-under 66. Swedish pair Joakim Lagergren (70) and Alexander Bjork (70) and Finland's Mikko Ilonen (72) also shared third.

Levy had three other top 10 finishes in his five previous events this season and moved up to ninth on the European Tour's Race to Dubai points list.

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(Not that) Jutanugarn shares lead with (not that) Ko

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 1:58 am

LOS ANGELES - A player eager for her first win and a rookie top the leaderboard at the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. Lurking two shots back is a Hall of Famer.

Winless Moriya Jutanugarn overcame a poor start and birdied the 18th for a hard-earned 1-under 70 to tie rookie Jin Young Ko at 9 under on Saturday at Wilshire Country Club.

Ko shot a 66 in her bid to become the year's first two-time LPGA winner. She won the Women's Australian Open in February, her first victory as an official tour member after a successful run on the Korean LPGA circuit.

''I'm ready for win or top 10, so maybe tomorrow I will really focus on shot by shot,'' said Ko, who added an exclamation point to her golf bag for each of her wins on the KLPGA. ''I won 11 times, so if I win tomorrow, maybe I change to 12. I need more, I need every time motivation.''

Jutanugarn is trying to match younger sister Ariya as a tour champion. Seven-time winner Ariya was tied for 27th after a 72 in the third round.

Usually when one of the Thai sisters is in the lead, the other will watch when her round is finished.

''If she's not too lazy, she is probably going to come out,'' Moriya said about Ariya.

Playing in an all-Korean threesome, Hall of Famer Inbee Park was two shots back in third after a 69. Her birdie putt for a share of the lead on 18 slid just by the hole. The group drew a large contingent of Korean fans.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

''I kind of started off a little bad. I was able to come back strong, so I'm really happy with that,'' Park said. ''I left a few putts out there. The greens around this golf course are just really tough. You just don't know what's going to happen.''

Moriya Jutanugarn's round included a double bogey on the par-4 first hole and a bogey on the par-4 sixth. She eagled the par-4 14th after holing out from the fairway 93 feet away. The ball took once bounce and went in, eliciting a stunned look from Jutanugarn before she high-fived her caddie.

''Today was kind of a pretty rough day for me with not a very good start and like trying to come back,'' Jutanugarn said. ''I just try to play my game and be patient out there I think is the key.''

Jutanugarn, the second-round leader, read the break perfectly on a long putt to make birdie on 18 and share the lead with Ko.

Playing two groups ahead of Jutanugarn, Caroline Inglis also eagled the 14th from 180 yards. She briefly jumped up and down and smiled after three bogeys and a double bogey. She shot a 69 and was four shots back in a tie for sixth with Minjee Lee.

''It was like one bounce and then it like trickled in,'' Inglis said.

Aditi Ashok eagled 14 early in the round.

Ko did some scrambling of her own. Her ball found a sandy hazard on the 17th with a scoreboard and a winding creek in between her and the green 190 yards away. Her approach landed just off the green and she made par. Her round included six birdies and a bogey on 16.

Eun-Hee Ji (70) and American Marina Alex (72) were tied for fourth at 6 under.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng shot a 70 and was in a six-way tie for 12th at 2 under.

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Defending champs Singh, Franco take senior lead

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 12:15 am

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco took the third-round lead Saturday in the windy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Singh and Franco shot a 7-under 47 in wind gusting to 20 mph on the Top of the Rock par-3 course to get to 19-under 145, a stroke ahead of the teams of David Toms-Steve Flesch and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett.

''It was a tough day,'' Singh said. ''The wind was swirling, have to get the club right and we made some putts. Carlos played really well on the back nine and I played really well on the front nine, so we ham-and-egged it a little.''

Toms and Flesch also shot 47, and Broadhurst and Triplett had a 33 on the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course.

''We just paired well together,'' Toms said. ''I don't think either one of us played great. We picked each other up out there.''

Wind and rain is expected Sunday when the teams finish at Top of the Rock, again playing the front nine in alternate shot and the back nine in better ball.

''Make as many birdies as possible and see what happens,'' Singh said. ''That's all we can do.''

Singh and Franco are trying to become the first to successfully defend a title since Jim Colbert and Andy North in 2001. Singh won the Toshiba Classic in March for his first individual senior title.

Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf

Flesch won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic last week in Georgia for his first senior victory.

Tom Lehman and Bernhard Langer had a 34 at Mountain Top to join Spanish stars Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal at 17 under. Jimenez and Olazabal had a 33 at Mountain Top.

''It's great for me to be able to play with him as a team member,'' Olazabal said. ''We do have great memories from the Ryder Cup and other events, and it's always a great pleasure to play with a great player and a friend.''

Langer took the final-round forecast in stride.

''We've done it hundreds of times before and we'll probably do it again,'' Langer said. ''We'll make the best of it. We both have a good attitude. We're known to play in all sorts of weather and I just look forward to playing one more day with my partner here.''

Wisconsin neighbors Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were 16 under after a 48 at Top of the Rock.

John Daly and Michael Allen, the second-round leaders after a 46 at Top of the Rock, had a 37 at Mountain Top to drop into a tie for seventh at 15 under.

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Landry shares Valero lead, eyes first career win

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 11:15 pm

After coming up just short of a breakthrough win earlier this season, Andrew Landry has another chance to earn his maiden victory at the Valero Texas Open.

Landry came within inches of winning the CareerBuilder Challenge in January, ultimately losing to Jon Rahm in a four-hole playoff. He struggled to find form in the wake of his close call, missing the cut in each of his four starts following his runner-up finish in Palm Springs.

But Landry took some time off to welcome his first child, Brooks, last month and he made it to the weekend in his first start back last week at the RBC Heritage, where he finished T-42. He made a move up the standings Saturday at TPC San Antonio with a bogey-free 67, and at 13 under shares the lead with Zach Johnson heading into the final round.

"I just did everything really good," Landry told reporters. "I was staying patient and just trying to make a bunch of pars. This golf course can come up and bite you in a heartbeat, and I had a couple bad putts that I didn't really make. I'm happy with it, it's a good 5-under round. Gets me in the final group tomorrow and we'll see what happens."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

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Landry started the day one shot off the pace and in the final group with Johnson and Ryan Moore, and at one point he took sole possession of the lead after birdies on three of his first six holes. Now he'll have another chance in the day's final tee time where he's grouped with Johnson and Trey Mullinax, who sits one shot back after firing a course-record 62 in the third round.

For Landry, it's another opportunity to break into the winner's circle, and it's one for which he feels prepared after coming so close three months ago.

"I mean, I don't want to go too deep into it because I don't want to sound cocky or anything, but I just believe in myself. There's no other explanation for it," Landry said. "You can totally get out here and play with Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, two top players in the world, and you can go out there and fold under pressure or you can learn a lot.

"Zach's always been a role model to me the way he plays golf, I feel like we have very similar games, and it's just going to be fun tomorrow getting to play with him again."