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Mickelson validated by WGC-Mexico win

By Rex HoggardMarch 5, 2018, 2:00 am

MEXICO CITY – When Phil Mickelson finally trades his PGA Tour card for an AARP card, which at this rate will likely stretch well into his golden years, PGA Tour victory No. 43 will be greater than the sum of its parts.

At first blush, the frenzied shootout on Sunday at the WGC-Mexico Championship was don’t-blink stuff. Lefty began the day two strokes off the lead, was one of six players to hold at least a share of the top spot and birdied Nos. 15 and 16 to force overtime with Justin Thomas, who just happens to be the game’s hottest player.

In typical Phil fashion, he didn’t make it easy.

He missed the fairway at the 11th hole, hit his next shot into a row of hedges and weaved a pitch between trees on his way to a bogey that dropped him two strokes off the pace with seven holes to play.

He caromed two tee shots off carts paths in a three-hole stretch, hit a tree and “a bunch of people” along the way – exactly what we’ve come to expect from one of the game’s most entertaining players.

Finally, facing another missed opportunity, he did something he’d been unable to do for over four years, holing key putts and avoiding the kind of mistakes that have defined a winless drought that stretched back to the 2013 Open Championship.

But when Mickelson finally settles into retirement, it won’t be his frenzied give and take with Thomas, who played his last 36 holes at Chapultepec Golf Club in 16 under par, or those clutch putts coming down the stretch that will define his 43rd celebration. It will be the validation that comes after more than four years of trial and (largely) error.

At 47 years old, Phil Mickelson has redefined himself. He’s no longer an aging legend clinging to misplaced confidence, or a player who has struggled with focus and poor swing mechanics. Instead, he’s emerged from the longest victory slump of his career like a competitive Benjamin Button.

“I believe it's going to continue to get better each week,” Mickelson reasoned following his victory over Thomas on the first playoff hole. “I don't think that this is the apex or the peak, I think I'm going to continue to get better, I think I'm working on the right things. I knew it was going to happen, but having validation means a lot.”

 Flanked by a World Golf Championship trophy it’s easy to have that kind of confidence, but know that throughout this process Mickelson never waivered.


Full-field scores from the WGC-Mexico Championship

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“It was always a matter of when, not if [he would win again],” said Mickelson’s brother, Tim, who replaced Jim “Bones” MacKay on Lefty’s bag last year. “I don’t think there was ever any doubt.”

He never allowed himself the indulgence of doubt, that wouldn’t be in Mickelson’s character, but that doesn’t mean Lefty was immune from the weight of his own expectations.

He failed to advance to the Tour Championship in three of the last four seasons and needed a captain’s pick for last year’s Presidents Cup to keep his team participation streak intact. Mickelson would have the occasional flashes of brilliance, like his three runner-up finishes in 2016, but he could never maintain any level of consistency.

“Over the last four-and-a-half years I've been extremely frustrated knowing that I've been able to play at this level and I haven't been doing it,” Mickelson conceded. “Knowing that I'm able to hit shots and I haven't been doing it, hitting some of the crazy shots that I've hit, that's led to a source of frustration.”

Although he’d regularly insist that he was close, there’s no substitute for results, which until the last few weeks hadn’t been there with any consistency.

But things started to change last month. He tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, second at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and set the table for his WGC walk-off with a tie for sixth two weeks ago at the Genesis Open.

As the week progressed in Mexico, those mental lapses and loose swings disappeared and he began playing a brand of golf that was more calculated. He made just a single bogey over 36 holes to earn a spot in Sunday’s final group, his first appearance in an anchor pairing since the 2016 Open Championship.

After that, it was all muscle and mental memory.

The nerves, the anticipation, the excitement that come with being in contention late on a Sunday all came back to him. He wasn’t perfect, but then Lefty never is. Despite hitting just 7 of 14 fairways, Mickelson two-putted from 32 feet at the 15th hole to inch to within a shot of the lead and rolled in a 19-footer for birdie at the next to move into a three-way tie with Thomas and Tyrrell Hatton.

“I love that nervous feeling that you get when you're in contention, I just haven't felt it that often,” he said. “I was certainly nervous heading into today's round, the pre-round warm-up, all that stuff. That's all part of it, though. That's what's exciting and that's what's so fun and that's what I've missed.”

The finish was rather anti-climactic, with Mickelson two-putting for par at the first extra hole after Thomas, who earned his spot in overtime after holing out from 121 yards for eagle at the 72nd hole, missed the green and failed to make par.

But then it won’t be the relative ease of victory that will be the lasting memory of Lefty’s long-awaited bounce back, either.

He may be one of the game’s most well-versed players, with an uncanny ability to speak at length about any subject, but he’s largely endured in private the last few years, reluctant to talk about his lack of focus and swing issues. Instead, he worked harder than he ever has on his swing, body and mind.

“I know there were other victories that will have a lot of meaning, but this one is very special,” said an emotional Steve Loy, Mickelson’s longtime manager. “This guy has done a lot of things to get ready for this moment and never really got acknowledged for all the hard work and the passion and the pain he’s had to endure.”

Lefty had gone 0-for-101 since winning the ’13 Open, and there was a growing thought that his best days were behind him and the game – now dominated by a parade of players half Mickelson’s age – had moved on. Lefty had other plans.

However, and whenever, Mickelson closes out his career, his 43rd Tour title will stand out because validation can be much more meaningful than a trophy.

Just before leaving Chapultepec, bound for a much different future, Mickelson was asked if he ever thought that his victory in ’13 at Muirfield would be his last: “No, I knew that that wasn't going to be my last one. And this isn't either.”

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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 golfodds.com.


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.”