Rebound or More Rejection in 2004
Let the debates and questionings begin.
Who among last seasons Player-of-the-Year candidates will again challenge Tiger Woods? Will veteran experience again trump youthful skill? Will we again be shocked and awed by our major champions?
Many of the questions to which we want answered this season are in relation to what we have most recently witnessed.
And such is the case for one of the more intriguing questions in 2004: Rebound or more rejection for Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and David Duval?
A year ago at this time, there was only one player in living creation, according to the Official World Golf Ranking, who was better than Mickelson. He was second on that list; Garcia was fourth; Duval 15th.
Then came 2003.
The trio played in a combined 63 PGA Tour events last season. They managed only nine top-10 finishes between them ' Mickelson had seven of those ' and missed 25 cuts ' Duval had 14 of those to complement two withdrawals.
Most importantly, they took the collar in the Wins department.
Mickelson started the year promisingly, with five top-10s in his first seven events, culminating in his third consecutive third-place finish in the Masters Tournament.
But after leaving the grounds of Augusta National, he failed to factor in any tournament, let alone a major championship. He only three times cracked the top 20, and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time in 11 years. He also went 0-5 at the Presidents Cup.
His disappointing season was best summarized at the PGA Championship. Mickelson held a share of the 18-hole lead after posting a 4-under 66 at Oak Hill.
Poised to pull away from the field early on Day 2, his aggressive approach led to two double bogeys in a stretch of three holes. He shot 75 in the second round, and followed with 72-75 over the weekend.
Unfortunately for the immensely talented left-hander, his biggest headlines came from the things he did ' and said ' off the course rather than on it.
Mickelsons quip that Woods was the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment hes stuck with sparked a controversy.
He created another stir when he tried to pitch for the Class AAA Toledo Mud Hens, who didnt offer the right-handed pitcher a contract after seeing his 68-mile-per-hour fastball.
If I can get my speed up to 85 mph, I wouldnt rule out trying this again, Mickelson said after not making the cut.
First, he may want to work on trying to straighten out the kinks in his driving, where he ranked third in distance and 189th in accuracy on the 2003 PGA Tour.
Baseball disillusionment aside, there is good news for Mickelson. He does have precedence for rebounding after a disappointing campaign.
The last time he went 0-for was in 1999. The following year, he posted four wins, three runner-up finishes and was second to Woods on the money list.
There was a time, not too long ago, that Mickelson would bristle at being second to Woods, but hed love to return to that Silver platform in the World Golf Ranking, as he enters 2004 in the 15th position.
'It was a tough year. I didn't really play to the level I expected to,' Mickelson said at the Skins Game.
'I'm really excited about next year,' he added. 'I'm looking forward to the Ryder Cup in Oakland Hills. I want to have a great year to get on the team, and play well.'
While Mickelsons slide was the most surprising of the three, Duvals was the most dramatic.
After claiming his first major in the 2001 British Open, the former world No. 1 suffered through a dismal 2002 season. Injuries and ailments attributed to a winless campaign.
But that was nothing compared to what he had to endure this past season, when dismal became abysmal.
Duval made only four cuts in 20 starts, with his best finish a tie for 28th. He missed the cut in his first three majors and had to withdraw after an opening 80 in the PGA Championship. He also had to withdraw from the Greater Hartford Open when he hit at least four balls out of bounds in a first-round 83.
He tried to compete in Novembers Dunlop Phoenix Open in Japan, but again had to pull out due to injury after just seven holes.
A bad back and an inability to make the proper compensations in his swing because of it have been the most tangible reasons for his downfall. But the emotional and mental distress he has suffered over the past two years ' like the break-up with his fiance in early 2002 and a bout of vertigo this past year' may be his most prominent hurdles.
Still, he tries to keep a publicly positive attitude.
'I've had some tough days this year, some bad scores and some really tough days and some terrible feelings when I've been playing. But, you know, I go home and I have a ball and I still love to do it,' he said prior to the PGA Championship.
Unfortunately in this game, you know, you can't choose your obstacles. In this life you can't choose your obstacles. So I have some pretty good obstacles to overcome at this moment.
It has been reported the Duval is now engaged to be married. Hopefully, this will help right the ship in his personal and professional lives.
He enters this year ranked 242nd in the world.
Similarly to Duval, Garcia struggled with his swing in 2003. But unlike his physically beleaguered counterpart, Garcia did so due to purposeful alterations.
The soon-to-be 24-year-old, under the watchful eye of his father, Victor, entered some mechanics into his natural, lagged movement into the ball.
It took a while for the emotional Spaniard to become completely comfortable in the change. His born ability helped put him in contention early in the U.S. Open and late in the British Open, but he was unable to sustain consistency for four full rounds.
At the World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational he held a share of the first-round lead after a 64, but backed it up with a 76. Likewise, at the Masters he opened in 69-78; at the U.S. Open 69-74; and at the WGC-American Express 65-73.
He led the Dunlop Phoenix by three strokes heading to the final round, only to lose to Thomas Bjorn after shooting a Sunday 78.
'You've got to be patient. You've got to try as hard as you can definitely and just wait for it to change,' Garcia said at the American Express.
His final-round scoring average on the PGA Tour this season was 72.3, which was two strokes higher than that of a year ago.
His putting didn't pick him up when his swing let him down either. He dropped from 35th in that category in 2002 to 175th this season.
'If you're not putting well, it puts too much pressure on your game and you try to get it closer and closer and you don't want to miss greens. It's hard to play with that kind of atmosphere,' he said.
Garcia finally broke through with a lucrative victory in Novembers Nedbank Challenge, where he beat local favorite Retief Goosen in a playoff -- a win that was worth far more than the $1.2 million first-place prize.
He is now ranked 36th in the world. Thats 32 spots lower than his position a year ago at this time. However, his rise may be as sudden as his descent if the pieces of his swing puzzle are finally in place.
Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.
The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.
Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.
''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''
Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.
McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.
''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.
Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.
''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''
Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.
Glover (64) leads Web.com Tour Championship
ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Web.com Tour Championship.
The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Web.com Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.
''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''
Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Web.com Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.
Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.
''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''
Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Web.com Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.
''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.
The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.
Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.
Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.
Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.
Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game
ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.
“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.
Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.
“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”
Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.
Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.
“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.
McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68
ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.
In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.
“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”
McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.
“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”