Bizarre Playoff Results in Mickelson Victory

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 11, 2001, 5:00 pm
Winning Ugly. That appropriately describes Phil Mickelson's victory at the Buick Invitational.
Mickelson blew a three-shot lead in regulation, only to defeat Davis Love III and Frank Lickliter in a sloppy playoff at the Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, Calif. After Love was ousted on the second extra hole, Mickelson finally bettered Lickliter on the third hole of sudden death - with a double bogey.
Phil Mickelson on his win
'An awkward playoff,' said Mickelson who shot a final-round 66 to win his 18th career PGA Tour event and $630,000. 'I'm excited about the outcome.'
On the third playoff hole, both Mickelson and Lickliter drove their tee shots on the par-four 17th into the left hazard. Each played a provisional, but when both of their balls were found, the second tee shots proved to be superfluous.
The two made the trek back to the tee box and re-teed. Lickliter successfully found the fairway on what was officially his third stroke. Mickelson, however, went left again. Fortunately for the left-hander, the trees obliged when Mickelson shouted, 'Spit it out!'
Mickelson eventually found the green on his fourth shot, and two putted for double-bogey 6. He then watched as Lickliter missed an eight-foot putt to win his first career PGA Tour event; and then missed a four-footer to extend the playoff.
'I'm in shock right now,' said Lickliter while trying to hold back tears.
The playoff proved to be a stomach-churner, especially for Mickelson, who had battled food poisoning for most of the week.
All three players finished regulation at 19-under-par 269. Love could have finished the tournament on the 72nd hole, but missed a 20-foot eagle putt. He could have done the same on the first extra hole, also the par-five 18th, but this time missed a 12-foot putt for eagle.
All three men birdied the first playoff hole. Love was then booted from the contest when he failed to get up and down from the greenside bunker at the par-three 16th. Mickelson and Lickliter recorded a pair of pars to move on. As Love stepped off the course, he said, 'It looks like a disaster out there.'
And how.
On the third playoff hole, Mickelson hit first and fanned his drive into a canyon well left of the fairway. Rather than taking the cautious route, Lickliter stayed with his driver and ended up in the exact same spot as Mickelson.
Both hit provisional tee shots, thinking their balls would not be found, and both safely hit the fairway.
While Lickliter did discover his ball, Mickelson had no intention of finding his. With Lickliter making his way back to the tee box, Mickelson was ready to play his provisional. That was until someone in the gallery found his ball for him.
'Didn't I tell them not to do that,' said an agitated Mickelson as he made his way back to the tee.
This time Lickliter's tee shot was center-cut. However, the lefty once again went left. A fortunate bounce off tree limbs kicked the ball into the rough, where Mickelson was able to place his fourth shot 25 feet from the flag.
From the fairway, Lickliter stuck his approach to eight feet. You know the rest.
'It's not a normal week,' Mickelson said. 'I'll take it. Winning feels great, and it doesn't matter how.'
For Lickliter, the loss was a difficult one to shoulder. Despite birdying his final two holes of regulation for a six-under-par 66, the six-year Tour veteran failed to garner that elusive first win.
'Other than getting a little stupid, I felt I played pretty good,' said Lickliter. 'It's tough to swallow.'
Mickelson's successful defense makes him the first player to win three Buick Invitational titles - with the other coming in 1993.
The win was also sweet redemption for Mickelson, who lost last week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am to Love when he made double bogey on the 72nd hole.
Love was vying for his second straight win after ending a 62-start winless drought at Pebble. In fact, he wasn't scheduled to play this week, but changed his mind at the last minute.
'Like I said yesterday, I needed to shoot the low round of the day,' stated Love, who closed with a 67. 'That would have done it. I didn't play great, but it was fun to be there.'
Tiger Woods was in contention throughout the final round, but failed to birdie either of the two par-fives on the front nine. Though he didn't record a bogey over his final 40 holes of the tournament, Woods' Sunday 67 left him in solo fourth place at 17-under-par.
'I felt like I played all right,' Woods said. 'I got around and scored, and that's the name of the game.'
Woods has now played in seven straight PGA Tour events without a victory. He'll skip next week's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, but may play the Nissan Open in two weeks.
'I'm really looking forward to taking some time off and relaxing,' said Woods, who won the 1999 Buick Invitational. 'If my practice sessions go well, I'll play. If they don't, I'll bag it.'
News, Notes and Numbers
*Phil Mickelson's PGA Tour playoff record is now 4-1, with his only loss to Jesper Parnevik in the 2000 Byron Nelson Classic. Love is now 1-7, with his only win coming in the 1995 COMPAQ Classic. Lickliter is 0-1.
*Tiger Woods has now gone seven starts without a win on the PGA Tour, his longest such streak since he lost seven in a row in 1999 before winning the Memorial.
Click here for Full-Field scores from the Buick Invitational!
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This time, Dad gets to enjoy Koepka's Father's Day win

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:39 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When Brooks Koepka won his first U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills the celebration was relatively subdued.

His family didn’t attend the ’17 championship, but there was no way they were missing this year’s U.S. Open.

“This year we booked something about five miles away [from Shinnecock Hills]," said Koepka’s father, Bob. "We weren’t going to miss it and I’m so glad we’re here.”

The family was treated to a show, with Koepka closing with a 68 for a one-stroke victory to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Koepka called his father early Sunday to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and Bob Koepka said he noticed a similar confidence in his son’s voice to the way he sounded when they spoke on Sunday of last year’s championship.

There was also one other similarity.

“Two years in a row, I haven't gotten him anything [for Father’s Day],” Brooks Koepka laughed. “Next year, I'm not going to get him anything either. It might bring some good luck.

“It's incredible to have my family here, and my dad loves golf. To be here, he loves watching. To share it with him this time, it will be a little bit sweeter.”

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Koepka reveals he injured his ribs last week

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:19 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – There was a time when Brooks Koepka didn’t even know if he was going to be able to play this week’s U.S. Open as he recovered from a wrist injury that had sidelined him for 3 ½ months.

He didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, which he missed, and returned to the PGA Tour in late April at the Zurich Classic. His return to competitive form accelerated from there with a runner-up finish last month at the Forth Worth Invitational.

But if Sunday’s victory at Shinnecock Hills, where he became the first player to win back-to-back U.S. Opens since Curtis Strange in 1989, appeared to be an official return to full strength, it wasn’t exactly that seamless.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Koepka, who closed with a 68 for a one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood, revealed that he suffered a rib injury last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

“My rib kind of came out last week. It bugged me a little bit,” he said. “Right when we got here, [Koepka’s trainer] worked on it, knew what it was. It was pretty sore, but I had no problems since then.”

In 2015, Koepka withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a similar rib injury.

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In the battle of bros, Koepka 1-ups DJ

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:12 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It’s a scene that occurs on a regular basis at the Joey D Golf Training Center, frenzied workouts driven by an intense combination of competition and desire.

Under the watchful eye of longtime PGA Tour trainer Joey Diovisalvi, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson will turn even the most mundane elements of their workouts into winner-take-all contests – from the duo’s warmup on stationary bikes to the various exercises that have turned the twosome into a pair of the game’s most imposing figures.

It was during one of these hyper-fueled sessions a few months ago when Koepka suggested he could become No. 1 world.

“I think Brooks was 11th in the world at the time, and Dustin said, ‘Yeah, if you add a ‘1’ to that,’” Diovisalvi recalled. “Brooks said, ‘You wait and see; you want to come to my party and put the banner up?’ Dustin just laughed, ‘Not while I’m alive, it’s not happening.’”

That rivalry, which is a friendly as it is genuine, was taken to a new level on Sunday at the U.S. Open when the duo set out for the final lap in the day’s penultimate group. Golf’s undisputed Bash Brothers going head-to-head after having traded titles at the last two U.S. Opens, the prototype of the modern professional playing on golf’s most demanding stage.

To the New York masses, the twosome must have looked like the guy most likely to ask how long you’re going to be using the bench press at your local gym, a pair of golfing unicorns who have combined unrelenting power with wildly under-rated precision.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

With apologies to all those who set out for the final round at Shinnecock Hills with the greatest expectations, this was always going to come down to either Koepka or Johnson.

Koepka won his first U.S. Open in dominant fashion last year at Erin Hills and Johnson got on the board in 2016 at Oakmont, so it should have been no surprise that, as the duo went through their normal “game day” workout early Sunday together, there was the unspoken realization that the day’s competition was just beginning.

“[Koepka] likes to beat DJ,” said Claude Harmon III, the swing coach for both men. “We’re in an era now where it’s a great time in golf that all the guys are friends and there are great friendships, but trust me – all these guys want to win. Brooks wants to beat everybody, including DJ who is his closest friend out here. He wants to beat him in the gym, in everything they do.”

Even in the Official World Golf Ranking, which currently features Johnson atop the pack?

“Absolutely, he tells him all the time,” Harmon said.

Koepka won’t climb to No. 1 in world on Monday, but he did one-up his South Florida stablemate by becoming the first player since Curtis Strange, in 1989, to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.

It was a perfectly Koepka performance.

A day that began with a no small measure of apprehension following Saturday’s inexplicable setup snafu – that prompted some players to contend that the USGA had “lost” the golf course for the second consecutive championship at Shinnecock Hills – quickly settled into the kind of competitive grind for which the U.S. Open is known.

Koepka broke out of a four-way tie for first place with a 20-footer for birdie at the second, added another at the third to go two strokes clear and appeared to be on cruise control. But then U.S. Opens, real U.S. Opens where par is a good score and the USGA dances dangerously close to the edge, are never that easy.

The first crack came at the par-3 11th hole when Koepka airmailed the green and needed to convert a 12-footer for bogey. He scrambled again at the 12th with a 6-footer for par and salvaged his advantage at the 14th hole after finding the fescue with his drive.

With Tommy Fleetwood – who became the sixth player to shoot 63 in a U.S. Open to settle into the clubhouse lead at 2 over par – watching from the range, Koepka walked to the 72nd tee with a two-stroke advantage. There was no suspense, no moments of anxiety, no reason to think he would allow this opportunity to slip away.

For all the complaints about Saturday’s setup, which even USGA CEO Mike Davis said were justified, this was the kind of U.S. Open Koepka relishes.

“This week is just back to a typical U.S. Open, where 1 over par wins the golf tournament,” said Koepka, who closed with a 68. “It's just a lot of grinding. But I couldn't be happier with the way I played.”

Picking your favorite major is often like picking your favorite child – they are all special in their unique way – but Koepka had no problem giving his second turn as U.S. Open champion its proper place.

This was special. Special because he outplayed Johnson, who closed with a 70 to finish in third place at 3 over. Special because of the workmanlike performance Shinnecock Hills demanded. And special because the last year hasn’t exactly been a celebration.

Toward the end of 2017, Koepka began to feel pain in his left wrist. He would miss the Masters with a partially torn tendon and spend 3 ½ maddening months on his couch recovering.

“We were worried that he wasn’t even going to be able to come here and defend,” said Koepka’s father, Bob. “I’m just thankful that he’s been able to recover. It’s been a long three months for him.”

Although he didn’t start hitting full shots until the Monday after the Masters, his return to competitive form was nothing short of meteoric, even by modern standards. And when he finished runner-up at last month’s Fort Worth Invitational, just his fourth event back, his confidence quickly returned.

“He’d never really been a golf nerd and I think he fell in love with golf again,” Harmon said. “When he came back there was something I hadn’t seen with him wanting to play again. He watched the Masters. He never watches the Masters.”

He also was back in the gym, alongside Johnson, rekindling the duo’s ongoing bout of one-upmanship. Early Sunday during their pre-round workout it was the status quo for Koepka and Johnson, friendly banter that both lightens the mood and inspires excellence.

But it was different once the two set out for the final round. There were no jokes, no trash talking, no talking of any kind, in fact.

“I love Dustin. He's one of my best friends,” Koepka said. “To play alongside him, it was fun today. I was excited about it. I figured he would be the guy to beat. But I didn't talk to him today. Maybe I said something on [No.] 3, and that was about it.”

There will be plenty to talk about next week when they renew what is one of the game’s most unique friendships and rivalries. Koepka won’t ascend to No. 1 in the world just yet, but he will hang a banner in Diovisalvi’s gym – 2018 U.S. Open champion – and Johnson wouldn’t miss that moment.

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Balky putter dooms DJ's run for second U.S. Open

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 12:31 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – While the course conditions during the final round of the U.S. Open were decidedly different than the day before, Dustin Johnson’s struggles on the greens remained the same.

Johnson appeared in command of the tournament at the halfway point at Shinnecock Hills, building a four-shot lead as the only player under par. But he, like many of the leaders, fell victim to borderline third-round conditions and struggled to a 7-over 77.

That still left him with a share of the lead at 3 over heading into the final round and a great chance to earn his second U.S. Open title in the last three years. Instead, he couldn’t keep pace with playing partner Brooks Koepka, shooting an even-par 70 to finish alone in third while Koepka went two shots better to successfully defend his title.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Johnson declined to speak with media following his round.

Johnson was 2 over for the week heading to the back nine on Sunday, only one shot behind Koepka. But he made three bogeys on the inward half, including dropped shots on Nos. 11 and 14 that effectively ended his title chances.

The culprit for Johnson’s regression was clear. After leading the field in strokes gained: putting through the first two rounds, he couldn’t get comfortable on the greens on the weekend.

Johnson needed 38 putts to complete his third round, T-64 among the 67 players who made the cut, and his 35 final-round putts were T-63 in the same category.

Despite the putting woes, Johnson has now finished T-4 or better at the U.S. Open four times in the last five years. In addition to his third-place showing this week and his win at Oakmont in 2016, he also tied for second at Chambers Bay in 2015 and was T-4 at Pinehurst the year prior.