For Mickelson, a great round, and a major letdown

By Rex HoggardJuly 14, 2016, 8:03 pm

TROON, Scotland – It only makes sense that on a day that felt more SoCal than Scottish summer a kid from San Diego would bask in the sunshine and take his swing at major immortality, all shirtsleeves and smiles.

Under a bright, warm sun and with hardly a breath of wind Phil Mickelson played the opening round of this Open like it was a casual round at Torrey Pines, although to be perfectly accurate Lefty has appeared much more at ease on the ancient links than he has ata the SoCal muni in recent years.

The wildly unpredictable southpaw was curiously consistent on Day 1, playing what he called an “easy” round on Royal Troon all the way to the final green and the precipice of Grand Slam history.

From 16 feet Mickelson watched his birdie putt track toward the hole at the last. He’d seen it in his mind’s eye, trundling toward the cup and vanishing in a moment of adrenaline and disbelief as Lefty – the often snake-bitten but never boring hero, both tragic and otherwise – became the first player in the history of major championships to sign for a 62.

There have been 437 modern majors played and yet golf’s magic number has eluded all – from Nicklaus to Woods. Although Mickelson prides himself on clinging to clichés, you know the drill: one shot at a time. As he made his way toward Royal Troon’s 18th green, toward history, Mickelson allowed himself a moment of self-indulgent excitement.

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“I said [to caddie Jim Mackay], ‘I need your best read. I don't know if you know this ...’” he said with his boyish smile. “He says, ‘Oh, I know.’ So, we’re on the same page.”

Ernie Els, who was paired with Mickelson on Day 1, putted first in order to give Lefty a chance to see the line. Mickelson and Mackay consulted, “breaking left in the middle of the putt and then straight the last bit,” they agreed.

The crowd, healthy even by Open standards for a Thursday afternoon, watched quietly, and Lefty rocked and fired, the putt perfectly paced.

“With a foot to go I thought I had done it. I saw that ball rolling right in the center,” he said. “I went to go get it, I had that surge of adrenaline that I had just shot 62, and then . . .”

And then the putt lipped out.

Maybe it was the golf gods or some unspecified curse or a pebble or spike mark.

“I had the heartbreak that I didn't see and watched that ball lip out,” he allowed.

Mickelson finished the day with an 8-under 63, just his third bogey-free round in The Open, which was good for a three-stroke lead over Patrick Reed and Martin Kaymer.

He became the ninth player to shoot a 63 in The Open and the first to do so at Royal Troon.

He didn’t care about any of that.

“I shot one of the most incredible rounds and feel like crying,” Mickelson said moments after signing his scorecard.

It all seemed so cosmically apropos for a player who once lipped out for 59 at the 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open. He’s inexplicably never won a PGA Tour money title, never been No. 1 in the world, never hoisted the FedEx Cup.

His career, his legacy, has been forged in majors, and to become the first player to shoot 62 under the most difficult conditions would have been a seminal moment.

“The way he played out there today, it's amazing he's only won one Open,” Els said. “It was beautifully played. Just a pity, I don't know how that putt didn't go in on 18. That would have been something. That was a great, great round.”

Mickelson began his run with an outward 32, which given Thursday’s benign conditions and the relative ease of Royal Troon’s opening nine was not an outright surprise.

But then he added birdies at the 10th hole, managed to save par at the demanding 11th and took the outright lead with a birdie at the 14th hole.

He ripped a “salty” bunker shot to 12 feet at No. 16 for birdie and when he converted for another at the par-3 17th hole, visions of 62 began drifting through Mickelson’s mind.

“When that putt [at No. 17] went in, then I knew I had a chance,” said Mickelson, who closed with a 66 on Sunday at the Scottish Open to tie for 13th place.

While form and fearlessness have a tendency to go hand in hand, that doesn’t entirely explain how a player who is winless on the PGA Tour since 2013 could turn back the clock so convincingly.

There was nothing in Lefty’s permanent record to suggest he’d pick apart the ancient links with such ease. He opened with a 73 in 2004 and tied for 24th in 1997 at the last two Royal Troon Opens. But those turns were well before he solved the links riddle with his victory at Muirfield in 2013.

Prior to that Scottish fortnight, which included a victory the week before at the Scottish Open, Mickelson had just two top-10 finishes in 17 Open starts.

Thursday’s unseasonably kind weather certainly gave Phil and the rest of the field plenty of reasons to be bold. For the day, Royal Troon buckled under sunny skies with more than 50 sub-par rounds.

Colin Montgomerie, Troon’s prodigal son having grown up on the seaside links, figured Thursday’s conditions were a “3 out of 10 job,” compared to what’s forecast for Friday, “tomorrow, we're talking 7, 8 out of 10.”

Even fresh from the sting of his missed opportunity, Mickelson, who has been chased away from the claret jug on more than one occasion by Mother Nature, sensed the storm that promised to follow the calm.

“We'll have varying conditions tomorrow. It's going to be very difficult,” Mickelson said. “A good number might be over par.”

At 46 years old Mickelson isn’t much interested in sentimental victories, particularly after another disappointing U.S. Open last month where he missed the cut a week after finishing runner-up in Memphis.

At this point in the proceedings, Mickelson has made no secret of his priorities. Adding to his total of 42 Tour tilts would be nice, but his focus is on the four weeks a year that define careers.

Becoming the player to end the 62 curse would have ranked alongside those major goals, and he conceded it will take some time to get over Thursday, but then the thrill of the chase has always been the best part for Lefty.

“It was fun,” smiled Mickelson’s longtime manager Steve Loy.

Mickelson always is.

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”