Mickelson's road to title paved with challengers

By Randall MellJune 16, 2013, 2:01 am

ARDMORE, Pa. – Hold on to your wicker baskets.

If Phil Mickelson is going to win Sunday at Merion Golf Club, he will have to hold off a bunch of challengers as hungry to win their first major championship as Mickelson is to finally win his first U.S. Open.

Mickelson takes more than a one-shot lead into the final round. He takes the advantage of knowing he has withstood major championship pressure before and prevailed. Four times, he has won majors. It’s a substantial edge given so many of his closest pursuers have never won one.

Charl Schwartzel is the only other contender among the top 15 on the leaderboard who knows what it takes to win a major. Schwartzel’s lone major was the Masters two years ago.

While there’s a staggering lack of major championship pedigree on the board, there is a load of proven winners.

Amateur Michael Kim is the only player among the top 10 who hasn’t won a PGA Tour event.

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“Given that I've had some past major championships, and some success here, I feel as well equipped as I could be heading into tomorrow's final round,” Mickelson said. “I think it's going to be fun.”

Sunday feels like Mickelson’s big day in so many ways. It’s Father’s Day, and he proved how meaningful that role is to him flying across the country so he could be there when his daughter, Amanda, gave an eighth-grade graduation speech. This act of fatherly love meant flying back from his California home in the middle of the night to make his Thursday morning tee time.

Sunday is also Mickelson’s 43rd birthday.

Mickelson, though, knows as well as anyone what heartbreak the U.S. Open can deliver with his five second-place finishes.

His major-less challengers should be bolstered knowing Adam Scott broke through to win his first major at the Masters in April. They’ll be looking to make this The Year of the Breakthrough in major championship golf. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a little streak of breakthroughs going in the U.S. Open. The last four U.S. Open champs were all first-time major championship winners.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Hunter Mahan, who will tee it up with Mickelson in Sunday’s final pairing just one shot off the lead. “It's going to be a very, very exciting finish, because I don't think any lead is safe.”

Mickelson isn’t the only player with a special story to tell if he wins.

Mahan, 31, carries so much promise as a five-time PGA Tour winner, but there’s also the scar from that Ryder Cup loss three years ago in Wales, the tear-filled aftermath with Mahan feeling like he let his fellow Americans down losing a vital singles match to Graeme McDowell. And then the sting of being left off the last American team with no chance to redeem himself at Medinah.

With a victory Sunday, Mahan would claim the grandest prize in U.S. golf.

“I feel like my game has been good for a while, and I felt like this course suits me pretty well,” Mahan said. “The U.S. Open does. I'm a good ball striker, and I’ve just got to get my short game a little bit better to kind of save those big up-and-downs and make those 6-, 8-footers for par. I felt like I did that today. It feels good to be in the hunt and be in contention.”

Steve Stricker is seeking to break through in the majors at 46. If he wins, he’ll surpass Hale Irwin as the oldest U.S. Open champion. Irwin was 45 when he won at Medinah in 1990. Stricker will play in the second-to-last pairing with Schwartzel. They’re both one shot behind Mickelson.

Winning would make for a special Father’s Day for Stricker, too. He significantly cut back his schedule this year so he could spend more time with his wife, Nicki, and their two daughters back in their Madison, Wis., home.

“It would mean a lot,” Stricker said. “It really would, but it's going to be a challenge tomorrow.

“A win, it would be unbelievable, but I'm not trying to think about that yet. I'm just trying to execute the shots that I know how to do, and take one shot at a time, and go from there.”

Luke Donald, 35, and Justin Rose, 32, will go off together two shots behind Mickelson. They’ve got a special mission. As fellow countrymen, they’re bidding to give England its first U.S. Open title since Tony Jacklin won in 1970, and its first major championship title since Nick Faldo won the Masters in 1996.

For Donald, winning a major adds legitimacy to his 56 weeks at No. 1. He never got the full respect he deserved carrying that ranking despite winning Player of the Year and money titles on both the PGA Tour and European Tour in 2011.

“When you look at Phil, he started winning majors around 34 or 35,” Donald said. “Of course, that’s my goal. I want to win majors. I got to No. 1 in the world, and I’ve won a great amount of tournaments around the world, but I would dearly love to win one of these.”

Rose is looking for the same validation as Donald.

“The next thing missing from the resume is a major now,” Rose said. “But I think that winning more is a big goal.”

Billy Horschel, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler are all looking to break through as 20somethings. Horschel is 26, Day 25 and Fowler 24. Horschel starts Sunday two shots back alongside Day, who is three back. Fowler is four back in his pairing with the amateur, Kim, who is five back.

Mickelson wants his first U.S. Open title so much after so many close calls, there has to be the same kind of angst all these players feel seeking their first major.

“I don't think I feel any more pressure than anybody else who wants to win the tournament, a major championship, the U.S. Open,” Mickelson said. “But it would certainly mean a lot to me in this is a tournament where for years I've had opportunities, I've come close to. It would mean a lot tomorrow if I could play some of my best golf.”

Mickelson isn’t alone feeling that way.

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Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.

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Woods admits fatigue played factor in Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:35 pm

There was plenty of speculation about Tiger Woods’ health in the wake of the U.S. team’s loss to Europe at last month’s Ryder Cup, and the 14-time major champ broke his silence on the matter during a driving range Q&A at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

Woods, who went 0-4 in Paris, admitted he was tired because he wasn’t ready to play so much golf this season after coming back from a fourth back surgery.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

The topic of conversation then shifted to what's next, with Woods saying he's just starting to plan out his future schedule, outside of "The Match" with Phil Mickelson over Thanksgiving weekend and his Hero World Challenge in December.

“I’m still figuring that out,” Woods said. “Flying out here yesterday trying to look at the schedule, it’s the first time I’ve taken a look at it. I’ve been so focused on getting through the playoffs and the Ryder Cup that I just took a look at the schedule and saw how packed it is.”

While his exact schedule remains a bit of a mystery, one little event in April at Augusta National seemed to be on his mind already.

When asked which major he was most looking forward to next year, Woods didn't hesitate with his response, “Oh, that first one.”

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Podcast: Fujikawa aims to offer 'hope' by coming out

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2018, 12:03 pm

Tadd Fujikawa first made golf history with his age. Now he's doing it with his recent decision to openly discuss his sexuality.

Last month Fujikawa announced via Instagram that he is gay, becoming the first male professional to come out publicly. Now 27, he has a different perspective on life than he did when he became the youngest U.S. Open participant in 2006 at Winged Foot at age 15, or when he made the cut at the Sony Open a few months later.

Joining as the guest on the latest Golf Channel podcast, Fujikawa discussed with host Will Gray the reception to his recent announcement - as well as some of the motivating factors that led the former teen phenom to become somewhat of a pioneer in the world of men's professional golf.

"I just want to let people know that they're enough, and that they're good exactly as they are," Fujikawa said. "That they don't need to change who they are to fit society's mold. Especially in the golf world where it's so, it's not something that's very common."

The wide-ranging interview also touched on Fujikawa's adjustment to life on golf-centric St. Simons Island, Ga., as well as some of his hobbies outside the game. But he was also candid about the role that anxiety and depression surrounding his sexuality had on his early playing career, admitting that he considered walking away from the game "many, many times" and would have done so had it not been for the support of friends and family.

While professional golf remains a priority, Fujikawa is also embracing the newfound opportunity to help others in a similar position.

"Hearing other stories, other athletes, other celebrities, my friends. Just seeing other people come out gave me a lot of hope in times when I didn't feel like there was a lot of hope," he said. "For me personally, it was something that I've wanted to do for a long time, and something I'm very passionate about. I really want to help other people who are struggling with that similar issue. And if I can change lives, that's really my goal."

For more from Fujikawa, click below or click here to download the podcast and subscribe to future episodes:

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Davies takes 2-shot lead into final round of Senior LPGA

By Associated PressOctober 17, 2018, 2:00 am

FRENCH LICK, Ind. - Laura Davies recovered from a pair of early bogeys Tuesday for a 2-under 70 that gave her a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Senior LPGA Championship as she goes for a second senior major.

In slightly warmer weather on The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort, the 55-year-old Davies played bogey-free over the last 11 holes and was at 6-under 138. Brandi Burton had a 66, the best score of the tournament, and was two shots behind.

Silvia Cavalleri (69) and Jane Crafter (71) were three shots behind at 141.

Juli Inkster, who was one shot behind Davies starting the second round, shot 80 to fall 11 shots behind.

''I had a couple of bogeys early on, but I didn't panic,'' Davies said. ''I'm playing with a bit of confidence now and that's good to have going into the final round.''

Davies already won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open this summer at Chicago Golf Club.