Crowds and Control

By Mercer BaggsAugust 12, 2005, 4:00 pm
2005 PGA ChampionshipSPRINGFIELD, N.J. ' He nods his head more than a detached man on a bad date. He gives a mock tip of the cap more often than a doorman at The Plaza. His smile is more present than controversy around Terrell Owens.
 
He is Phil Mickelson. He is leading the 87th PGA Championship. And he is loving every minute of it.
 
Phil Mickelson
As Phil Mickelson went lower and lower with his scores on Friday, the crowd noise kept getting higher and higher.
Mickelsons performance is only half of the reason hes flashing that big, goofy grin up and down the fairways of Baltusrols Lower Course. From tee to green, green to tee, swing to swing, Mickelson is being bathed in applause and appreciation.
 
Phils got em. Hes got em right in his hip pocket. Fans cant get enough. They absolutely love this guy. They run in between shots to position themselves for his next strike, creating clouds of lingering dust in their wake. They high-five one another when he makes a birdie. And they repeatedly scream his name.
 
Man, do they scream his name.
 
Come on, Phil! they shout. Make birdie, Phil! they yell. Its your time, Phil! they implore. Phil! Phil! Phil! The name echoed through the oaks, and between the ears.
 
Mickelson is warmly received in every tournament in which he competes. But it feels a little more personal during a major championship. Particularly one that is held in the New York area.
 
Mickelson has been a fan favorite in this neck of the Union since nearly pulling off his first major triumph at Bethpage in 2002.
 
Of course, it didnt happen back then. But that was one of the reasons patrons were rooting him on ' it never happened for him.
 
He was Hard-luck Phil; Star-crossed Phil; Poor old Phil; and Major-less Phil.
 
That all changed when he finally won the 2004 Masters. He was no longer the lovable loser; he was a major champion.
 
All those loyal rooters who stuck by his side through thin and thin celebrated that victory as if it was their own. And in a way it was.
 
Mickelson connects with the gallery unlike any other player, save for perhaps John Daly. He and Daly are by far considered to be the most human athletes ' OK, lets not call those two athletes ' players in the game.
 
They make eye contact with their fans. They talk to their fans. They sign autographs for their fans. Put simply, they acknowledge their fans. And thats what a fan most wants ' a connection.
 
Fans also love a winner, particularly one who has lost for so long.
 
One of many knocks on Mickelson was that he was always overly aggressive. That he had no control. And that this wild, go-for-broke approach ' the same one that seemed to work pretty well for Arnold Palmer, mind you ' would never work for him. Not in a major. Not in a hundred majors.
 
They were right in a way; Phil did have to tailor his game to fit major demands, and he did have to devise a plan of attack directed specifically for these four elite events.
 
But he swears that this is not a new Phil, just a slightly adjusted version of the one weve always known. Hes not being more conservative, he says; if anything, hes just being more controlled, which he believes allows him to be more aggressive.
 
It makes sense in his mind.
 
By hitting a right-to-left fade ' a soft cut, as he calls it ' he is able to temper his distance off the tee by 20 to 25 yards. This allows him to hit more fairways, which allows him to target pins more often than if he was in the rough.
 
Hes using this swing on every tee shot at Baltusrol, even on the holes that are better suited for a left-handed draw. He last did his One Trick Pony routine at Augusta in 2004.
 
That worked out pretty well for him. And its doing the same yet again.
 
Mickelson is a major champion. But only one time over. In a recent Sports Illustrated poll, he received votes from some of his peers as the games biggest underachiever ' this in relation to a guy who has won 26 PGA Tour events. That just goes to show the incredible level of talent this guy has, and what is expected of someone with such a gift.
 
Mickelson expects to win another major. Soon. Maybe this week. Long before he won the Masters, he told anyone who was willing to listen that he had a grand plan for winning not just one, but multiple major titles.
 
David Duval spent his professional career stalking a major kill. And when he bagged one, it was his drive that died. He never looked long term.
 
Mickelson did, and still is.
 
The key word this week is: control.
 
Mickelson has talked repeatedly about the need to control his ball off the tee. His instructor, Rick Smith, said after Fridays round, Hes got total control of what hes doing right now.
 
Smith said he would love to see a Pebble Beach situation, referring to Tiger Woods 15-stroke runaway victory in the 2000 U.S. Open.
 
Mickelson, who leads by four, isnt looking that far ahead. Hes focused entirely on the present.
 
When he made double bogey on the par-4 first, his 10th hole of the day, fresh off a birdie-eagle run to close his opening nine holes, Mickelson didnt panic. He didnt try to get back those two strokes on the very next hole ' in fact, he missed a 6-footer for birdie at No. 2.
 
Instead, he remained calm and trusted everything that he has been working on since the Open Championship, and he made three birdies to just one more bogey coming home.
 
He remained controlled.
 
And right now, Mickelson is not just in control of his game; hes in complete control of the tournament.
 
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    Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

    By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

    SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

    Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

    ''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

    Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

    ''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

    Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

    Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.


    Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

    Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


    Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

    He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

    ''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

    Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

    ''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

    Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

    Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

    But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

    ''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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    LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

    By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

    LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

    Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

    Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

    Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

    ''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

    That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

    ''Too many,'' Park said.

    The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

    ''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

    The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

    Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.


    Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open


    Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

    Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

    ''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

    Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

    She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

    ''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

    ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

    Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

    Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

    The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

    Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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    Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

    By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

    Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

    While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

    The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

    "I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

    Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

    With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

    "Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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    Three years later, PXG launches new iron

    By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

    Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

    “Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

    PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

    The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

    Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.