Leftys Magic Carpet Ride

By Randall MellApril 11, 2010, 5:55 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Phil Mickelson’s wedge and putter conjured the same magic that comes with the wave of a maestro’s wand.

He created soul-stirring music in the third round that will rank among the legion of great concerts they’ve been witness to in the natural amphitheater they call the back nine at Augusta National.

Rachmaninov couldn’t have topped the crescendo of roars Mickelson summoned nearly making three eagles in a row in one of the most thrilling three-hole charges ever seen on a Masters’ Saturday.

Mickelson’s back-to-back eagles at the 13th and 14th holes and his near hole-out for another eagle at the 15th thrust him thickly in the hunt for his third Masters title going into Sunday’s final round. His spectacular display of shot making left him one shot behind front-running Lee Westwood and in the final pairing with the Englishman who’s bidding to win his first major championship.

Butch Harmon, Mickelson’s swing coach, was standing near the 14th green when Mickelson holed a pitching wedge from 141 yards.

“That roar at 14 was unbelievable,” said Harmon, who’s heard his share of roars over the years as Tiger Woods’ former swing coach. “I haven’t heard a roar like that in a long time.”

Augusta National was treated to what has to rank as the most thrilling 27-minute shot-making display ever seen at the Masters. One roar after another erupted amid Mickelson’s run. Fred Couples chipped in for eagle right before Mickelson’s final eagle. Ricky Barnes chipped in for birdie at the 13th right after Mickelson made eagle there.

“It was amazing,” Couples said. “The roars were unbelievable.”

From the pairing directly in front of Mickelson, Couples enjoyed a clear view of Mickelson’s eagle-eagle-birdie charge.

“I watched them all,” Couples said. “Phil really wants to win. He’s going to be the guy to beat.”

The interaction between Couples and Mickelson was almost comical as they playfully taunted each other amid the pressure of a “Moving Day” at a major. They went at each other like they were playing for a local club championship.

“Fred was giving us the business,” said Jim Mackay, Mickelson’s caddie.

The fun began before the round.

“It was pretty funny because we were texting a little bit about how low I was going to have to go to catch him and maybe play with him tomorrow,” Couples said.

Mickelson, who posted a 5-under-par 67, started the day two shots behind Westwood. At the turn, with Westwood off to a terrific start, Mickelson had fallen five back. In that dizzying 27-minute span, Mickelson seized the lead with his charge.

“There was no need to look at scoreboards,” Westwood said of all the noise.

Mickelson set up his first eagle at the 13th with a monster fade around the bend in the fairway. He slammed a 7-iron from 195 yards to 8 feet.

At the 14th, Mickelson thrust both arms in the air after holing that wedge from 141 yards.

“I can’t believe that ball disappeared and went in,” Mickelson said.

Couples was so impressed he tried to shout to Mickelson that he wanted the ball as a memento.

“He didn’t hear me,” Couples said.

After Couples chipped in for eagle at the 15th, he asked Mickelson if he wanted to trade golf balls.

Mickelson played with so much confidence, he said he was trying to hole the 87-yard wedge at the 15th for a third consecutive eagle. His shot curled to within inches for a tap-in birdie.

“I thought it was possible that somebody had two eagles in a row, but I didn't think anybody had three,” Mickelson said. “I was trying to go for that.”

Harmon said the beauty of the day was that Mickelson could go home and share his remarkable charge with his wife, Amy. Mickelson’s wife and three children arrived Tuesday. It’s the first time they’ve been together at a tournament since The Players Championship last year. It was a week after The Players that news broke that Amy had breast cancer. Shortly after that, news followed that Mickelson’s mother, Mary, also had breast cancer.

Amy’s famously known as Mickelson’s most passionate supporter.

Harmon says Amy’s situation took more a toll on Mickelson earlier this season than people realized this season, but his player’s relishing having his family together at the year’s first major. Phil’s parents and Amy’s parents also are here this week. Mary walked nine holes on Friday.

“Having his family here is a huge factor,” Harmon said. “He gets to go home at night and be with his family. He’s not been able to do that at a tournament this year. Amy is Phil’s biggest supporter. They go through rounds and talk about shots. I think it’s a big reason he’s been able to relax this week.”

Amy has not appeared on the course at any event since her diagnosis, and there are no plans for her to do so.

If Mickelson wins, though, she’ll be sure to get all the inside info on the shots that won it. If he wins, and her children spill onto the green to greet her husband, it’s sure to make for an extraordinary scene.

Getty Images

Match Play Final Four set to bring the excitement

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Sunday’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will include a pair of Georgia Bulldogs, a two-and-done phenom from Alabama and a Swede from Stockholm via Stillwater, that would be Oklahoma.

Just like that other tournament, right?

Actually, for all the volatility in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it’s not even in the same league as this year’s Match Play, where just a single player who began the week seeded inside the top 10 is still playing.

But what the event may lack in star power it’s certainly made up for with stellar performances, starting with Justin Thomas who is the PGA Tour’s most avid Alabama fan and the tournament’s second-seeded player.

After not losing a match in three days of pool play, Thomas again cruised through his morning Round-of-16 bout with Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5; but found himself in an unfamiliar position early in his quarterfinal match against Kyle Stanley.

Having not trailed during any point in his matches this week, Thomas bogeyed the second hole to fall behind.

“I was hoping to never trail this whole week. I thought that was unbelievable that [2017 champion Dustin Johnson] did it last year,” Thomas said. “I'm going out there this afternoon, and I was like, ‘Man, I have got a chance of doing this, too.’ Then I missed a 3-footer on 2 and shot that out the window.”

The world’s second-ranked player was nearly perfect the rest of the way, regaining the lead with three birdies in four holes starting at No. 5 and closing Stanley out with a bogey-free finish.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

It’s all part of an impressive turnaround for Thomas, who had been slowed in recent weeks by dental surgery followed by a bout with the flu, which nearly prompted him to miss the Match Play.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” said Thomas, who can unseat Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking if he advances to the championship match. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

His improved health has dovetailed with his increasingly better play at Austin Country Club and he’s now two matches away from winning his first World Golf Championship.

Like the NCAA tournament, however, being one of the last four standing only means more work, and Thomas will have plenty to keep him busy when he sets out early Sunday in a semifinal match against Bubba Watson.

Although Watson hasn’t been as dominant as Thomas, his ability to overpower any course, any time, has been evident this week following victories over Brian Harman, 2 and 1, and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, on his way to the Final Four.

“When you're hitting an 8-iron and another guy is hitting a 7- or another guy is hitting a 6-iron, obviously that's going to change everything,” said Watson, who played his college golf at Georgia. “It's like LeBron James, when he jumps, he jumps higher than I do, so it's an advantage. When you're hitting the driver good and those guys you're naming, they're known for hitting the driver pretty well, just like Thomas is doing right now, he's been hammering it. Anytime that you're hitting the driver somewhat straight, it's an advantage.”

But if Bubba is a familiar foe for Thomas, he may want to do a quick Google search to fill in the blanks on one of his potential final opponents.

While Alex Noren is still a relatively unknown player to many American fans (and that’s certain to change in September at the Ryder Cup), it’s only because they haven’t been paying attention. The Swede, who attended Oklahoma State, has been dominant this week, sweeping the group stage followed by a 5-and-3 victory over Patrick Reed in the Sweet 16 and a 4-and-2 triumph over Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

“I've always liked match play because the outcome is quite direct,” said Noren, who will face Kevin Kisner in the semifinals. “In match play, you've just got to be really focused all the time and anything can happen. And then you have to play good each round. You can't just give up a round and then think you've got three more.”

But if a JT vs. Noren final would be the perfect Ryder Cup primer, the dream match up for Thomas in the championship tilt might be Kisner.

Kisner lost a friendly wager to Thomas earlier this year at the Sony Open when Alabama defeated Georgia in the NCAA National Championship football game and he had to wear an Alabama jersey while he played the 17th hole on Thursday.

Kisner would certainly appreciate the chance at a mulligan. And the way the duo have been rolling in birdie putts this week, it has the potential to be just as entertaining as that other tournament.

Getty Images

Up one, Stricker hunting second Champions title

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 11:48 pm

BILOXI, Miss. - Steve Stricker moved into position for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, shooting a 3-under 69 on Saturday to take a one-stroke lead in the Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Stricker won the Cologuard Classic three weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona, for his first victory on the 50-and-over tour. He tied for 12th the following week in the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

Stricker had a 7-under 137 total at Fallen Oak, the Tom Fazio-designed layout with big, speedy greens.

The 51-year-old Wisconsin player bogeyed Nos. 2-3, rebounded with birdies on Nos. 6-7, birdied the par-4 12th and eagled the par-5 13th. He has six top-three finishes in eight career senior starts.

First-round leader Joe Durant followed his opening 66 with a 72 to drop into a tie for second with Jeff Sluman (67).

Getty Images

Thomas can take world No. 1 with win over Watson

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On March 7, Justin Thomas had his wisdom teeth removed, and just when he was recovering from that, he was slowed by a bout with the flu.

In total, he estimates he lost about seven pounds, and he admitted on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to play the event.

“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” Thomas said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off, if it's going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn't going to do me any good.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Thomas went on to explain he was “50/50” whether he’d play the World Golf Championship, but decided to make the start and it’s turned out well for the world’s second-ranked player.

After going undefeated in pool play, Thomas cruised past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the round of 16 and secured himself a spot in the semifinals with a 2-and-1 victory over Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals. If Thomas wins his semifinal match against Bubba Watson on Sunday, he’s assured enough points to overtake Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don't care when it happens; I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said when asked about the possibility of becoming world No. 1. “I don't know what to say because I've never experienced it. I don't know what's going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”

Getty Images

Garnett's six-shot lead dwindles to two in Punta Cana

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 10:57 pm

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic - Brice Garnett took a six-stroke lead into the wind Saturday in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. He came out with a two-stroke advantage.

Garnett bogeyed three of the final six holes in the wind and rain for a 3-under 69 and a 16-under 200 total.

''Once we made the turn coming back, all those holes coming in toward the north, it was all we wanted and then some,'' Garnett said. ''I kind of took advantage of some holes going out, some holes downwind, some par 5s, and then we were just trying to leave it in the right spot those last four or five holes. Pars are pretty good scores on those holes.''

Canadian Corey Conners was second after a 67, and Tyler McCumber also had a 67 to get to 12 under. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo dropped out Friday, finishing last in the 132-man field in his PGA Tour debut. He shot 77-82 playing as an amateur on a sponsor exemption.

A stroke ahead after each of the first two rounds, Garnett opened with a bogey, birdied Nos. 2, 4 and 6, eagled the par-5 seventh, and made two more birdies on the par-3 ninth and par-5 12th. He bogeyed the par-4 13th, par-5 15th and par-3 17th.

Full-field scores from the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship

''I looked once and the lead was a little bigger than what it is now,'' Garnett said. ''The eagle was huge, kind of gave me that confidence that I can push it on out and stretch it a little bit more. That wind was tough and I'll take a two-shot lead into tomorrow.''

The 34-year-old Garnett is winless on the PGA Tour. He won twice last year on the Web.com Tour.

''You've got another 18 holes. So much can happen,'' Garnett said. ''Just going to try to keep the golf ball in front of me. I have that self-belief this week and that's what I had last year when I won, so I'll just keep my head down and just keep going.''

Conners had five birdies and a bogey on the front nine and added a birdie on No. 12.

''Really happy with the round,'' Conners said. ''I got off to a nice start, made a bunch of birdies on the front nine and kind of held it together on the back nine. It was playing really difficult. The wind was really blowing out there, made things challenging.''

McCumber, the son of 10-time PGA Tour winner Mark McCumber, has played his last 39 holes with a bogey.

''Second shots have been pretty solid,'' McCumber said. ''Putting pretty well, short game is pretty good. Just really being in the right areas and staying below the hole.''

Tom Lovelady was fourth at 11 under after a 68. Seamus Power (71), Denny McCarthy (71) and Seungsu Han (72) were 10 under.