Tiger, Phil playing mind games with themselves

By John FeinsteinJuly 23, 2014, 1:48 pm

There has never been a great athlete in any sport who wasn’t masterful at deception – specifically self-deception. Through the years, myriad clichés have evolved in different sports. Pitchers have great stuff, but their command is off. Batters are hitting the ball on the button but right at people. Quarterbacks are throwing the ball well but are having a little problem going vertical. Shooters in basketball aren’t getting enough good looks.

The golf clichés are similar: I’m hitting it as well as I’ve ever hit it, I’m just not making any putts. I’m putting well – the ball’s just not going in the hole. And the popular: It’s right there, I’m just a little bit off.

Of course, in the case of truly great players, the clichés are often true. To go out right now and bet your house that neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson will win the PGA Championship next month would be insane.

Why? Because one is, at worst, the second-best player in history and the other is almost certainly in the top 15 – or possibly better. You never write off the truly elite athlete. Even playing at 20 pounds overweight for the Washington Wizards, Michael Jordan was still a legitimate NBA All-Star. He wasn’t close to being Michael Jordan but he was still a very good basketball player.

All of that being said, it was hard to know whether to laugh or cry when listening to Woods and Mickelson last week during the British Open.

Woods sounded more like a guy preparing to run the 100-meter dash at the Olympics than a golfer: “I’m stronger, faster, more explosive.” Heck, he even came out of the starting blocks well with his 69 on Thursday. But golf’s not a sprint and the most gentle part of the game (putting) has been Woods’s biggest downfall, especially in majors, in recent years. But then, almost predictably, came rounds of 77, 73 and 75 and Woods’ worst four-round finish ever in a major (69th place).

Let’s remember that prior to the tournament, Woods said his expectation was, “to finish first,” because that’s always his expectation. As late as Friday evening he was reminding people that Paul Lawrie came from 10-shots back at Carnoustie on Sunday in 1999 to win.

That’s true. But Rory McIlroy isn’t Jean Van de Velde and Tiger Woods, at least at the moment, isn’t Tiger Woods. This time he wasn’t even 64-year-old Tom Watson.

All of which is to be expected when you’ve only played six rounds of competitive golf since early March and undergone back surgery. But the notion, which Woods even put forth at Congressional after missing the cut by four shots, that he was just a little bit off here and there is ludicrous. Tiger Woods finishing 23 shots behind the winner is not that far off? Seriously?

In some ways, Mickelson sounded more delusional. For weeks, even months, he has been insisting that he’s “right there.” Every week he’s hitting the ball the best he’s hit it all year. If that’s the case, he should be shooting 59 almost every day with that kind of improvement.

How in the world can Phil Mickelson say he’s hitting the ball well after hitting three balls out of bounds the first two days of a major under relatively benign conditions? It’s not like hurricane winds blew those balls out of bounds; Mickelson hit them there. The fact that he recovered from one of the out of bounds to make bogey and from another to make par is proof that the genius still lives inside him.

Here’s one thing you can bet: Mickelson will show up in Akron next week and talk about how he found something on the last day at Hoylake, that shooting 68 on Sunday to finish T-23 gave him an extra boost of confidence. He probably won’t bring up the fact that 28 players broke 70 that day and not one of them was the winner.

Mickelson should probably be more concerned with the state of his game right now than Woods. He’s 44 and, even though he won the British Open a year ago, he’s not as long off the tee as he once was and you can’t help but wonder when the psoriatic arthritis he battles is going to start to affect him – if it isn’t already. He certainly isn’t going to talk about it and sounds as if he’s making excuses. He also hasn’t been able to putt with any consistency for most of the last year.

Woods will be 39 in December and, unlike Mickelson, who suffers from a disease that isn’t curable, his various physical issues have all been fixable. Still, his is a battered 38-year-old body – clearly a fragile one, based on past history.

Even so, the biggest battle both men face right now is between their ears. For all their talk about how good they feel about their swings and their games and their explosiveness, each is clearly fighting himself on the golf course. Mickelson doesn’t play golf to finish T-23 and Woods certainly doesn’t play to finish 69th. The only thing that matters to either one at this stage of their career are the majors: Mickelson would like to finish the career Grand Slam and add another major or two before he’s done and Woods is still holding out hope that he can find some of his youthful brilliance again and surpass Jack Nicklaus.

Right now, you wouldn’t bet the ranch on either guy. But you’d be foolish to write them off, even if the best thing about their golf at the moment is their ability to spin bad results into sounding hopeful.

Then again, that’s to be expected from the best of the best. It's what they do.

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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Web.com Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Web.com Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."