Mickelson finally has his British Open moment

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2013, 7:34 pm

GULLANE, Scotland – Muirfield has never failed to deliver, but this exceeded even this club’s historically lofty expectations.

The East Lothian links has a history of delivering Hall of Fame Open champions, from Nick Faldo (twice) to Jack Nicklaus. For the 142nd edition of golf’s oldest championship, however, the road to Phil Mickelson’s British breakthrough was littered with more twists and turns than a Scottish byway.

To put Mickelson’s victory in context, longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay choked back tears and summed up nearly two decades of frustration: “You work for a guy 21 years ... it’s cool when you see him play the best round of golf he’s ever played to win the British Open.”

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Or swing coach Butch Harmon’s take. Harmon has now coached four different players to Open titles – call it the claret jug slam – and figured, “I tell people all the time in ’93 when Greg (Norman) won I thought the 64 he shot in the final round at Royal St. George’s was the best round of golf I’d ever seen played. I’m not too sure this round doesn’t top it because this golf course was so hard.”

And to think, Mickelson’s clinching 66, the best round of the week, was for much of the day an afterthought, a footnote tucked deep into most stories as Lee Westwood clawed his way to his first major and Tiger Woods tried to wrest himself off his Grand Slam slide and Adam Scott looked to add to his major collection.

It wasn’t until Lefty charged in a 25-footer at the 14th to move to 1 under par and within one stroke of Westwood that the golf world began to take notice. By the time he’d hammered “two of the best 3-woods of my career” down the windswept 17th fairway for a two-putt birdie, an Open title truly began to materialize.

Even Mickelson, who before 2011 had exactly one top-10 finish at the Open, admitted that his title chances seemed pretty slim until “about an hour ago,” he said as he was making his way to the 18th green to accept the claret jug.

After 19 tries, Mickelson’s moment came after starting the day five strokes back and for much of the outward loop he seemed destined for another also-ran on the ancient turf.

But one by one those ahead of him faltered and slowly fell away.

The first to fall was Woods, who may have considered the brown and bouncy links his best chance to collect major No. 15 since 2008. He three-putted the first and fourth holes for bogeys to fall three back and didn’t make a birdie until the 12th hole.

By then Woods’ chances to claim his fourth claret jug had been blown into the Firth of Forth.

“I could just never get the speed (of the greens) right today. We started on the first day and it progressively got slower. And that's usually the opposite at most tournaments. It usually gets faster as the week goes on, but this week it was different,” said Woods, who has now gone 17 majors without a victory. “Today I had a couple of opportunities to make a couple of putts and I left them short.”

Westwood, who has finished in the top three at every major, began the day with a two-stroke lead but bogeyed the third to crack the door and made back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8 to drop into a tie with Scott and Henrik Stenson at 1 under. From there he continued to fade and closed with a 75 to tie for third.

By then, it was Scott’s championship to win following four birdies through five holes through the turn. The Australian, who blew a late four-stroke lead at last year’s Open, seemed poised to add his second major in three starts until he bogeyed four consecutive holes starting at the 13th.

“The disappointing thing is with this one I felt I wasted a little bit,” said Scott, who closed with a 72 to tie for third, four strokes back. “I would have liked to be in at the end and no one was, actually. It's a shame.”

Ian Poulter played his Sunday round like the Ryder Cup, not the claret jug, hung in the balance, charging through Nos. 9-12 in 5 under to move within two strokes of the lead, but the Englishman played his final seven in 1 over to finish in the group at 1 over.

Stenson, who tied for the lead with a birdie at the 11th hole, may have been the last man with a chance to catch Mickelson after going out in 34, but like the others the Swede’s title chances came apart with bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13.

“We know (Mickelson) is a world-class player and has been for many, many years,” said Stenson, who finished alone in second place at even par after a final-round 70. “So I don't think it took us by surprise, but it's still all credit to him for finishing the way he did.”

Perhaps, but before his torrid 32 on the inward loop – which included birdies at Nos. 13, 14, 17 and 18 – it’s doubtful that anyone outside of Mickelson’s inner circle believed he could make up that much ground under the circumstances.

Even after Mickelson’s victory last Sunday at the Scottish Open, which was played on a links course in the north, he seemed to be a bona fide longshot following a third-round 72.

After that round Mickelson retreated to the Muirfield practice tee for an impromptu session with Harmon and a pep talk.

“I said I thought even par or 1 under would win this thing and he said, ‘I’m doing better than that,’” Harmon said.

It was a dramatic change of fortune for a player that in his first 17 Open Championships had more missed cuts (four) than top 20s (three). The transformation began in 2011 when he tied for second behind Darren Clarke at Royal St. George’s and took another step forward last month when he ditched his driver for a strong 3-wood.

The result at Merion was another runner-up finish at his national championship and although his ball-striking at Muirfield wasn’t flawless, he tied for 37th in the field in fairways hit (34 of 56) and 27th in greens in regulation (46 of 72), it was good enough. Particularly the way he putted for three days.

Only six players took fewer putts than he did (117) and Lefty had just three three-putts for the week on greens that, at least for the first three days before the R&A let the water hoses loose, were baked to a brownish hue by unseasonably hot weather and dry winds.

It was only apropos that Mickelson completed his comeback with a bold 6-iron into the last and a 12-foot birdie putt to finish at 3 under and three strokes clear of the field. After 19 years of trial and mostly error in the United Kingdom, the one title that always seemed out of his grasp was his.

“I never knew if I could win this tournament,” said Mickelson, the first player to win the Scottish Open and Open Championship. “I hoped and believed but never knew it.”

After Sunday’s 66, Mickelson made everyone a believer.

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'The Golf Club 2019' adds Elvy to commentary team

By Nick MentaJuly 19, 2018, 4:45 pm

“The Golf Club 2019” is adding a new name to its commentary team.

Broadcaster Luke Elvy will join returning announcer and HB Studios developer John McCarthy for the title's third installment.

Golf fans will recognize Elvy from his recent work with CBS in addition to his time with Sky Sports, FOX Sports, TNT, PGA Tour Live and PGA Tour Radio.

A 25-year media veteran from Australia, he now works in the United States and lives with his family in Canada.

"Ian Baker-Finch was my right-hand man on Australian televison," Elvy told GolfChannel.com in an interview at the Quicken Loans National. "And Finchy said to me, 'What are you doing here? You should be with me in the States.’ He introduced me to a few people over here and that's how the transition has happened over the last five or six years."

Elvy didn't have any prior relationship with HB Studios, who reached out to him via his management at CAA. As for why he got the job, he pseudo-jokes: "They heard the accent, and said, 'We like that. That works for us. Let's go.' That's literally how it happened."

He participated in two separate recording sessions over three days, first at his home back in February and then at the HB Studios shortly after The Players Championship. He teased his involvement when the game was announced in May.

Although he doesn't describe himself as a "gamer," Elvy lauded the game's immediate playability, even for a novice.

“It’s exactly how you’d want golf to be,” he said.

"The Golf Club 2019" will be the first in the HB series to feature PGA Tour branding. The Tour had previously licensed its video game rights to EA Sports.

In addition to a career mode that will take players from the Web.com Tour all the way through the FedExCup Playoffs, "The Golf Club 2019" will also feature at launch replicas of six TPC courses played annually on Tour – TPC Summerlin (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open), TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course (Waste Management Phoenix Open), TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course (The Players Championship), TPC Southwind (FedEx St. Jude Classic/WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship), TPC Deere Run (John Deere Classic), and TPC Boston (Dell Technologies Championship).

“I played nine holes at Scottsdale,” Elvy added. “It’s a very close comparison. Visually, it’s very realistic."

The Golf Club 2019 is due out this August on PlayStation 4, XBOX One, and PC.

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Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

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'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”

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Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”