Masters Mojo

By Rex HoggardApril 6, 2011, 1:36 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Phil Mickelson was on his game on Tuesday, and the big left-hander never got within a 64-degree wedge of Augusta National’s first or 10th tees on a blustery day.

Maybe it was the rejuvenative powers of Magnolia Lane, or last week’s walk-off win in Houston or just the kind of swagger that comes with more green in the suit closet than Shaquille O’Neal. Whatever the tonic, the result was a relaxed Lefty with more one-liners than a Vegas headliner.

For the better part of 30 minutes Mickelson hit the punch lines like a boldly played 6-iron from pine straw right of the 13th fairway. Speaking of Phil’s signature slash between the pines, he was quickly asked if he plunked down a few pellets during one of his recent practice rounds to re-enact the fearless moment?

“I didn’t see the point. I’ve already done that,” he smiled sheepishly just moments before he offered, “It was a 6-iron for crying out loud . . . I had a huge margin of error.”

It is a unique week for Lefty, in as much as a 40-year-old playing his 19th Masters can appreciate something new. For the first time since April 16, 1997, Mickelson begins the week ranked ahead of Tiger Woods. He also kicks off the proceedings as the betting favorite for the first time.

Even in 2006, when Mickelson was fresh off another commanding Tour victory the week before he motored down Magnolia Lane, he trailed Woods in the wagering line. Not that the collective vote of confidence, or anything else, was adding pressure to the proceedings for Mickelson.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson is playing for his fourth green jacket. (Getty Images)

In short, Mickelson was a man infinitely comfortable in his own skin.

Phil was cool even when one curmudgeonly scribe attempted to kill his vibe, bringing up the dark days before his first major championship when he wore the title “Best Player without a Major” like a cloak of shame.

“That was seven years ago, you need to let that go,” he laughed.

Even Woods, not always generous with praise for his long-time rival, had to applaud Mickelson’s ability to manage his way around the venerable club’s back nine last year. “He didn't hit it very good for his standard on Sunday. But he missed the ball in absolutely every single perfect place for those pins, and that's experience, and that's knowing where to miss. And he did that,” Woods said.

Had the 20 first-time Masters participants been inclined they could have gathered in the back of the press center and enjoyed “Phil’s Five Easy Steps to Winning the Masters.”

Step 1: Play to win, even when your caddie is trying to talk you out of it. “You mean those three times,” Mickelson smiled when asked about his famous shot at the 13th hole last year, a bold option his caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay attempted to talk him down from . . . three times.

Augusta National may, indeed, set up more favorably for a left-hander, a pop-culture explanation of Lefty’s recent run at Augusta. But Mickelson’s greatest asset may be the same DNA that drove him to bounce his U.S. Open title off the corporate tents at Winged Foot.

“There’s a point in every tournament where you have to take on some risk,” Mickelson said. “You can’t expect that other players are going to give it to you.”

Write that down.

Step 2: Swing hard. We’re talking see-a-back-specialist hard, which is what Mickelson is doing this week in hopes of avoiding a body cast. You don’t have to hit the ball a mile to win a green jacket, but it helps, particularly when the forecast calls for a warm, windless week.

“This week is the one week where I swing the absolute hardest,” he said.

Step 3: Embrace the late tee time. On Thursday Lefty is off at 1:48 p.m. (ET), a slot some might perceive as a slight for a defending champion. Not Mickelson.

“I would love nothing more than to have the last tee time every day,” he said with Sunday on his mind.

Step 4: Have a game plan. Mickelson has been accused in the past of over-thinking things. This is, after all, the same man who played one of the longest U.S. Open courses without a driver in his bag. So word on Tuesday that he planned to possibly go with two drivers this week, his normal gamer and one with a longer shaft and different loft, was greeted with raised eyebrows.

Yet there is a method to Mickelson’s Masters madness. Whether the two-driver experiment pays off doesn’t matter, but the scheme does make Lefty believe he’s prepared.

Step 5: Enjoy the moment. It’s hard to imagine that Mickelson is inching toward the “December” of his career, the term used by Jack Nicklaus when he won his last green jacket at 46, but his appreciation for the place borders on the spiritual.

“When I drive down Magnolia Lane I get reenergized with the game of golf,” he said. “I could easily forget week-in and week-out playing the PGA Tour how lucky I am to play this game.”

On his way down the famed byway on Tuesday, a familiar drive he’s taken dozens of times, he noticed one of the 61 towering magnolias that line the club’s driveway had been toppled by the morning storms and didn’t miss the opportunity to have some fun.

“I was surprised, you know, that it wasn’t replaced the first half hour,” he smiled. “I think chairman (Billy) Payne must have been sleeping.”

The joke doubled as metaphor for Mickelson’s two decades of Masters moments – one long, repeating dream. 

Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard



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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)