Bunker Shots Home of a Monster and Trumps playground

By Randall MellMarch 9, 2010, 7:21 pm
Blasting into the week ahead, from the home of a Monster to Trump's playground . . .

WGC-CA Championship

Feverish, shaky and drenched in cold sweat . . .

No, that isn’t how PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has been waking mornings since Tiger Woods drove into a neighbor’s fire hydrant three months ago. It’s how Phil Mickelson felt sleeping on the 54-hole lead the last time the WGC-CA Championship was staged at Doral.
phil mickelson doral 2009
Phil Mickelson battled food poisoning en route to winning at Doral in 2009. This year his issue is undiagnosed. (Getty Images)
Mickelson won at Doral despite suffering from a bout of food poisoning on the eve of last year’s final round.

Mickelson is back to defend his title at what’s now being called the TPC Blue Monster at Doral, and there’s something ailing him again. He’s been sluggish, out-of-sorts and just not himself so far this season. This time he appears to be suffering from a bout of ordinary golf, a malady far more difficult to win with than food poisoning.

Longtime fans of Doral’s PGA Tour stop are fighting a sickening feel, too. The event begins with CA having yet to announce it will renew title sponsorship after its contract runs out at the end of this week.

Stance: If you stuck a thermometer in Lefty’s mouth, you might detect some frost. Mickelson’s gone cold. In fact, you can argue this is the coldest he’s been in a decade upon his arrival for the Florida Swing. That’s more a testament to Mickelson’s past success on the West Coast Swing than an indictment of his uninspired form this season. In four starts, Mickelson’s logged one top-10 finish. We know Mickelson can get off to slow starts, but this is his slowest since 2000, when he didn’t have a top 10 in his first five starts. With Woods on the shelf, Mickelson’s failed to capitalize on an opportunity to gain ground on the world’s No. 1. Of course, it’s all about the majors for Lefty, and he’s still got a month to heat up for the Masters.

Takeaway: Hurry up, fellas. It looks like the money grab in World Golf Championship events is winding down with news that Woods is intensifying his work at Isleworth for a possible return. You could argue that Woods skipping the CA Championship is akin to tournament officials announcing they’re adding $1,530,000 to the purse. That’s the first-place check Woods would be eyeing if he were in the field. Woods is far more a sure thing in WGC events than he is in majors. Throw out the two-man team World Cups that were staged as WGC events, and 33 WGC tournaments have been played since they were initiated in 1999. Woods has won more than half of them. He’s won as many WGC titles (17) as Curtis Strange won PGA Tour titles. He has more WGC titles than Tom Weiskopf (16), Ernie Els (16) and Mark O’Meara (16) have PGA Tour titles.

Bunker shot: Best player never to win a WGC title? Mickelson took his name out of that mix last year winning the CA Championship and the HSBC Champions. Who does that leave? Sergio Garcia isn’t just in the running for best player never to win a major, he’s also never won a WGC title. Neither have Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Jim Furyk.

Puerto Rico Open

Breakthroughs and comebacks.

That’s the theme that has quickly developed in this third-year event at Trump International Golf Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

That makes it a perfect place for John Daly, 43, to show he’s got one last meaningful run in him.

Greg Kraft, whose career was nearly derailed by “Valley Fever,” won the inaugural event two years ago. Michael Bradley, who struggled with back injuries and other physical woes for almost a decade, won last year for his third PGA Tour title, his first in 11 years.

Stance: Daly’s determination and perseverance continue to impress. Within 24 hours after a published report revealed contents of his PGA Tour personnel file detailing his bad-boy antics, Daly set out to add to the 456-page file. He tweeted the cell phone number of the sportswriter who filed the story, calling him a jerk while encouraging his fans to “call and flood his line.” Daly, who has been cited 21 times in his career for failing to give his best effort, never seems to tire hitting shots out of bounds.

Takeaway: The twentysomethings have mounted a nice run on the PGA Tour this season with Camilo Villegas, Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Bill Haas winning events. While this tournament has belonged exclusively to fortysomethings – Kraft was 43 when he won it, Bradley 42 – there’s one Young Gun who seems poised to keep the twentysomething run going. Alex Prugh (25) has three top 10s in his first six starts this season.

Bunker shot: Boo Weekley might want to abandon his camouflage clothing. It’s working too well. The likeable fifth-year PGA Tour pro hasn’t been seen on a leaderboard in a long spell. He hasn’t recorded a top 10 in more than a year. A two-time PGA Tour winner, Weekley last cracked the top 10 at the Sony Open last year. Weekley, who memorably rode his driver like it was a Derby contender down the first fairway at Valhalla during the last Ryder Cup, struggled with a bad shoulder last year and has slipped to 72nd on the U.S. Ryder Cup standings. Weekley’s missed on golf’s biggest stages but has a chance to right his game on a smaller stage this week.

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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.

After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”

By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”

But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”

But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

@bubbawatson on Instagram

Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Bubba Watson

8. Webb Simpson


9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari


5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Ross Fisher

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick


5. Ian Poulter

6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello