Mickelson confident he's close to a revival

By John FeinsteinAugust 10, 2012, 10:56 pm

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – One of the more remarkable things about golf is how difficult it can be even for those who play it best.

Every player who has ever touched a club has gone searching for some kind of swing key, thought, move or rationale that will allow them to find the elusive target that is playing the game well.

On Thursday, after he had seen most of the sights of Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course en route to an opening round 73 in the PGA Championship, Phil Mickelson insisted that he was closer to finding something to unlock the door than he had been in quite a while.

“It’s close,” he said. “I really don’t feel as if I’m that far away.”

It sounded as much like a plea as a statement of fact.


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But on Friday, he got a lot closer. It wasn’t as if he found every fairway or every green. But his misses weren’t nearly as far off target as they have been the past few months. They were in places where he could work his short-game magic and piece together a 1-under-par 71 on a day when breaking par was a small miracle.

It will probably take something more than that for Mickelson to end up with the Wanamaker Trophy, but at least it's a possibility. Given his play since the Masters, that’s no small thing.

He began the year like it was going to be one of the best of his Hall of Fame career. He shot a stunning 64 on Sunday at Pebble Beach, dusting Tiger Woods by 11 shots, en route to his fourth victory there. A week later he lost a playoff in Los Angeles before a third-place tie in Houston the week before the Masters.

He went to bed on Saturday at Augusta a shot out of the lead, convinced he would be slipping on a fourth green jacket. Instead, he train-wrecked on the fourth hole, trying to play two shots right-handed before he limped to the fifth tee after a triple-bogey 6, and ended up tied for fourth. For most, that’s a good week in a major championship. For Mickelson it was a huge letdown.

Since then, it hasn’t been pretty. He has one top 10 – a tie for seventh in Dallas – in nine tournaments. He has withdrawn once and missed two cuts, including at the British Open. He began his U.S. Open, playing in a group that included Woods, by losing a golf ball on his first swing of the week and finished T-65.

Bad stretches aren’t new for Mickelson. But it hasn’t just been lousy golf, it has been his demeanor. At times he’s been downright cranky.

He complained to Tour officials in Dallas about the presence of cellphone cameras on the golf course and went a step further at the Memorial, reportedly texting PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem during the round to complain. After signing for a 79 that day and again telling a Tour official what he thought of the cellphone cameras in no uncertain terms, he withdrew, claiming he was exhausted.

It was all very un-Phil-like for the always image-conscious Mickelson. If there has ever been a player who has gone out of his way to say all the right things during his career, it has been Mickelson.

Maybe being inducted into the Hall of Fame, as much as he said he enjoyed the experience, made him feel old. Maybe it’s more than that. Mickelson doesn’t talk publicly about his private life except to thank people for the good wishes they have sent his way since both his wife and his mother were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. He does commercials for the drug that has kept his psoriatic arthritis under control since he first began experiencing the symptoms more than two years ago, but doesn’t talk about how it might be affecting him.

The disease is progressive – even with drugs that slow it down or keep it under control. Cancer is frightening at all times and Amy Mickelson still isn’t the presence on Tour that she was before she got sick.

Mickelson has never been an excuse-maker. Before he finally won his first major at age 33 he never once complained about bad luck or having to play against Woods at his best or played the “I will have had a great career even if I never win a major,” game. He was honest about the need to win at least one if he wanted to be considered a great player. Now he’s got four of them.

At the moment, though, he’s still searching. Maybe the 71 on Friday was another beginning, a turning of the lock that will get him back inside the place where he wants his game to be.

He was Eddie Haskell-Phil again on Friday, saying all the right things about the golf course, the setup and the job the PGA of America has done bringing this event to a place that is a logistical nightmare for most involved.

It was very hot and very windy on Friday and every shot was an adventure. Vijay Singh shot a 69 that conjured memories of Tom Watson’s 71 all those years ago at the Memorial on a day when the stroke average for the day was 79.

But Mickelson’s 71, aided by a birdie-birdie start at 10 and 11 to start his day, wasn’t that far behind. On No. 11, he hit a driver off the deck, a classic Mickelson play, and it led to two-putt birdie that got him pointed in the right direction.

“I actually felt like it would be easier to control it because I wouldn’t have to fight the wind,” he said of that decision. “It would just stay down and the wind wouldn’t touch it so I didn’t have to do anything special.”

Maybe not special, but very, very good. Maybe it was just a day when an experienced player got it around and got it up and down enough to score. Or maybe the search is about to yield some results.

If nothing else, Mickelson’s mood on Friday seemed considerably brighter than it has been in recent months.

Stay tuned.

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Snedeker still in front on Day 3 of suspended Wyndham

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 11:21 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Brandt Snedeker held a three-stroke lead Saturday in the Wyndham Championship when the third round was suspended because of severe weather.

Snedeker was 16 under for the tournament with 11 holes left in the round at the final event of the PGA Tour's regular season.

Brian Gay was 13 under through 12 holes, and Trey Mullinax, Keith Mitchell, C.T. Pan and D.A. Points were another stroke back at varying stages of their rounds.

Thirty players were still on the course when play was halted during the mid-afternoon with thunder booming and a threat of lightning. After a 3-hour, 23-minute delay, organizers chose to hold things up overnight and resume the round at 8 a.m. Sunday.

When things resume, Snedeker - who opened with a 59 to become the first Tour player this year and just the 10th ever to break 60 - will look to keep himself in position to contend for his ninth victory on Tour and his first since the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open.


Wyndham Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

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The 2012 FedEx Cup champion won the tournament in 2007, the year before it moved across town to par-70 Sedgefield Country Club.

Snedeker's final 11 holes of the round could wind up being telling: In seven of the 10 previous years since the tournament's move to this course, the third-round leader or co-leader has gone on to win.

And every leader who finished the third round here at 16 under or better has wound up winning, including Henrik Stenson (16 under) last year and Si Woo Kim (18 under) in 2016.

Snedeker started the day off strong, rolling in a 60-foot chip for birdie on the par-4 second hole, then pushed his lead to three strokes with a birdie on No. 5 that moved him to 16 under. But after he sank a short par putt on the seventh, thunder boomed and the horn sounded to stop play.

Gay was 12 holes into a second consecutive strong round when the delay struck. After shooting a 63 in the second round, he had four birdies and an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole. He placed his 200-yard second shot 10 feet from the flagstick and sank the putt.

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Lexi charges with 64 despite another penalty

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Lexi Thompson ran into another awkward rules issue while making a bold charge at the leaders Saturday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

She hit a speed bump at Brickyard Crossing Golf Course when she was assessed a penalty for violating a preferred-lies local rule.

Five shots off the lead at day’s start, Thompson birdied six of the first nine holes, making the turn in 30 to move two off the lead, but that’s where she got her second education this season on the implementation of local rules.

At the 10th tee, Thompson blew her tee shot right, into the sixth fairway. With preferred lies in effect, Thompson picked up her ball, cleaned it and replaced it within a club length before preparing to hit her second shot at the par 5.

According to Kay Cockerill, reporting for Golf Channel’s early live streaming coverage, LPGA rules official Marty Robinson saw Thompson pick up her ball and intervened. He informed her she was in violation of the preferred lies rule, that she was allowed to lift, clean and place only when in the fairway of the hole she was currently playing. She was assessed a one-shot penalty and returned her ball to its original spot, with Robinson’s help. The local rule was distributed to players earlier in the week.

Cockerill said Thompson handled the penalty well, shaking her head when realizing her mistake, and chuckling at her gaffe. She then crushed a fairway wood, from 215 yards, up onto the green. She two-putted from 50 feet and walked away with a par.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


“Thankfully, Marty intervened before she hit her next shot,” Cockerill reported. “Otherwise, she would have been hitting from the wrong spot, and it would have been a two-shot penalty. So, in a sense, it saved her a shot.”

Thompson is making a return to golf this week after taking a month-long “mental break.” A year ago, she endured heartache on and off the golf course, with her competitive frustration having much to do with being hit with a controversial four-shot penalty in the final round of the ANA Inspiration. She appeared to be running away with a victory there but ended up losing in a playoff.

Earlier this year, Thompson got another education in local rules. She was penalized in the second round at the Honda Thailand after hitting her ball next to an advertising sign. She moved the sign, believing it was a moveable object, but the local rules sheet that week identified signs on the course as temporary immovable obstructions. She was penalized two shots.

In her pretournament news conference this week, Thompson shared how difficult the ANA controversy, her mother’s fight with cancer and the death of a grandmother was on her emotionally. She also was candid about the challenge of growing up as a prodigy and feeling the need to build a life about more than golf.

Saturday’s penalty didn’t slow Thompson for long.

She made back-to-back birdies at the 13th and 14th holes to post a 64, giving her a Sunday chance to win in her return.

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U.S. Amateur final comes down to Devon vs. Goliath

By Ryan LavnerAugust 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – On his family’s happiest day in years, Nick Bling stood off to the side of the 18th green, trying to collect himself.

His oldest son, Devon, had just advanced to the U.S. Amateur final, and he surely knew that, at some point, the question was coming. Of the many members in the family’s boisterous cheering section that came here to Pebble Beach – a clan that includes Nick’s brothers and sisters, his in-laws and the teaching professionals of his hometown club – one person was conspicuously absent.

So for 22 seconds, Nick couldn’t utter a word.

“She’s watching,” he said, finally, wiping under his sunglasses.

His wife, Sara, died in February 2013 after suffering a sudden blood clot that went to her brain. She was only 45, the mother of two young boys.

The news took everyone by surprise – that day Nick and Devon were together at a junior tournament in southwest California, while Sara was at home with her youngest son, Dillon.

“That was bad. Unexpected,” said Dillon, now 16. “I don’t even want to think about that. That was a rough year.”

Sara was a fixture at all of the boys’ junior tournaments. She organized their schedules, packed their lunches and frequently shuttled them to and from China Lake, the only course in their small hometown of Ridgecrest, about two hours north of Los Angeles, where they’ve lived since 1990.

An engineer at the Naval Air Weapons Station, Nick picked up the game at age 27, and though he had no formal training (at his best he was a high-80s shooter), he was the boys’ primary swing coach until high school, when Devon was passed off to PGA instructor Chris Mason.

“Devon has world-class raw talent, and there’s a lot of things you can’t teach, and he’s got a lot of that,” said UCLA assistant coach Andrew Larkin. “But his dad looked at the game very analytically. He was able to break down the golf swing from a technical standpoint, and I think that has helped him. His dad is a brilliant man.”

Devon watched his dad hit balls in the garage and, at 18 months, began taking full swings with a plastic club, whacking shots against the back of the couch. Once his son was bigger, Nick put down a mat and built a hole in the dirt on the family’s property.


U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


Once it was time for the next step, there was only one option in town. China Lake is more than 300 miles from Pebble Beach, but in many ways they’re worlds apart. The course is dead in the winter, picked over by the birds in the spring and baked out in the summer, with 110-degree temperatures and winds that occasionally gust to 60 mph. Devon still blossomed into a well-known prospect.

“Growing up in Ridgecrest,” Devon said, “some could say that it’s a disadvantage. But I could use the course and take a shag bag and go out and practice. So I used it to my advantage, and if it weren’t for that golf course, I wouldn’t be here today.” 

Nor would he be here without the support of his family.

Asked how they survived the tragedy of losing Sara so suddenly, Nick Bling said: “Brothers. Kids. Friends. Half of Ridgecrest. The town. They all came together. What do they say, that it takes a village to raise a boy? It did. Two boys.”

Devon carried a 4.2 GPA in high school and played well enough to draw interest from UCLA. He played on the team last season as a freshman, winning a tournament and posting three other top-10s. The consistency in his game has been lacking, but the time spent around the Bruins’ coaches is starting to pay off, as he’s developed into more than just a swashbuckling power hitter. He has refined his aggression, though he’s offered more than a few reminders of his firepower. Last fall, the team held a Red Tee Challenge at TPC Valencia, where they all teed off from the red markers. Bling shot 28 on the back nine.

In addition to his awesome game, Larkin said that Bling was one of the team’s most mature players – even after arriving on campus as a 17-year-old freshman.

“I think his mannerisms and his charisma really come from his mom,” Larkin said. “It was a super hard time in his life, but I think it helped him grow and mature at an early age. He’s such a good big brother, and he took a lot of that responsibility.

“There’s a blessing in everything that happens, and I think it made him grow a little young. I think he’s the man he is today because of her.”

In his player profile, Bling wrote that his mom always wanted him to play in USGA championships, because of their prestige, and she would have loved to watch him maneuver his way through his first U.S. Amateur appearance.

After earning the No. 41 seed in stroke play, Bling knocked off two of the top amateurs in the country (Shintaro Ban and Noah Goodwin), edged one of the nation’s most sought-after prospects (Davis Riley) and on Saturday traded birdies with Pacific Coast Amateur champion Isaiah Salinda.

In one of the most well-played matches of the week, Bling made six birdies in a seven-hole span around the turn and shot the stroke-play equivalent of a 65 to Salinda’s 66.

The match came down to 18, where Bling bludgeoned a drive over the tree in the middle of the fairway, knocked it on the green in two shots and forced Salinda to make birdie from the greenside bunker, which he couldn’t.

Bling was a 1-up winner, clinching his spot in the finals (and the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open), and setting off a raucous celebration behind the rope line.

“He played as good as I’ve ever seen,” Larkin said. “The talent has always been there, and I’m glad it’s coming out this week.”

Another difficult opponent awaits in the championship match. It’s a mismatch on paper, a 36-hole final between Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, ranked fifth in the world, and the No. 302-ranked Bling. Hovland had won each of his previous two matches by a 7-and-6 margin – the first time that’s happened since 1978 – and then dropped eight birdies on Cole Hammer on Saturday afternoon.

But he’s likely never faced a player with Bling’s resolve – or a cheering section as supportive as his family’s.

“This means a lot to us,” Dillon said. “It was finally Devon’s time, and I knew one day it’d come down to the finals. He’s been playing awesome. Mom is probably really happy right now.”

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Report: Fan hit by broken club at Web.com event

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 18, 2018, 9:12 pm

A fan was hit by a broken club and required stiches Friday at the Web.com Tour's WinCo Foods Portland Open.

According to ESPN.com, Kevin Stadler slammed his club in frustration causing his clubhead to break and it struck a fan in the head.

The fan required six stiches and was released from the hospital.

Orlando Pope, a Web.com Tour rules official, spoke with ESPN.com:

"It was a very freakish accident. Kevin is devastated. He had trouble trying to finish the round. He was quite worried and felt so bad.''

Former PGA champion Shaun Micheel was in Stadler's group and posted this message on Facebook:

"One of my playing partners played a poor shot with a 7 iron on the par 3 fifteenth hole this morning. In a fit of anger he slammed his club against the ground and the side of his foot which caused the club to break about 6” from the bottom. I had my head down but the clubhead flew behind me and hit a spectator to my right. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so much blood. We stayed with him for about 15 minutes before the EMT’s arrived. The last I heard was that he had a possible skull fracture but that he was doing ok otherwise. [Stadler] was absolutely shattered and we did our best to keep his spirits up. This was not done on purpose and we were astounded at the way the club was directed but it shows you just how dangerous it is to throw or break clubs. Each of us in the group learned something today!"