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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

WGC-Mexico Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“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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Senden playing first event since son's brain tumor

By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 3:03 pm

John Senden is back inside the ropes for the first time in nearly a year at this week's Chitimacha Louisiana Open on the Tour.

Senden took a leave of absence from professional golf in April, when his teenage son, Jacob, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He didn't touch a club for nearly four months as Jacob endured six rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, a gauntlet that stretched from April until mid-November.

But Senden told that his son's tumor has shrunk from the size of a thumbnail to the size of a pinky nail, and after a promising MRI in January he decided to plan his comeback.

"I haven't really played in 12 months, but in that time Jacob has really, really hung tough," Senden said. "His whole body was getting slammed with all these treatments, and he was so strong in his whole attitude and his whole body. Just really getting through the whole thing. He was tough."

Senden was granted a family crisis exemption by the Tour, and he'll have 13 starts to earn 310 FedExCup points to retain his playing privileges for the 2018-19 season. He is allowed five "rehabilitation" starts as part of the exemption, but will reportedly only make one this week before returning to the PGA Tour at the RBC Heritage, followed by starts in San Antonio, Charlotte and Dallas.

Senden, 46, has won twice on Tour, most recently the 2014 Valspar Championship.

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Added videos shed light on Reed rules controversy

By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 2:39 pm

Additional fan videos shed some light on a rules controversy involving Patrick Reed during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, when Reed suggested that Jordan Spieth would have gotten free relief after he was denied a favorable ruling.

Reed had sailed the green with his approach on the 11th hole Sunday at Bay Hill, coming to rest under a palm tree. As the below thread of videos from fan Tyler Soughers illustrates, Reed wanted a free drop because he believed a nearby television tower was in the way of the shot he planned to play.

The initial rules official didn't "see" the shot Reed planned to attempt given the tight confines, and his decision to deny Reed a free drop was upheld by a second rules official. Reed eventually tried to play the ball, moving it a few feet, before being granted relief from the tower from the ball's new position. He ultimately made double bogey on the hole and tied for seventh.

After finally taking his free drop away from the tower, Reed was heard muttering to nearby fans, "What a crock of s---."

Reed and Spieth will have plenty of time to discuss their favorite rulings Friday, when the two players face off on the final day of round-robin play in Group 4 during the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin.

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Callaway’s $1 Million FanBeat Challenge

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 2:30 pm

Callaway’s $1 Million FanBeat Challenge is a new live-action game presented by Golf Channel, where golf fans answer trivia and predictive-play questions during tournament coverage for a chance to win $1 million and dozens of other Callaway-sponsored prizes.

Click here or on the image below to play now!

Here's how to play:

  • Two pre-round questions are available to answer anytime.
  • Additional questions are posted during breaks in the action of each round of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play (previously contested at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Valspar Championship, WGC-Mexico Championship).
  • Users will earn points for every correct answer to move up the prize leaderboard during each round.
  • Players earn chances to win additional “instant win” and tournament prizes just by playing along and answering questions.

Callaway’s $1 Million FanBeat Challenge is a play-along game that makes watching golf coverage on Golf Channel and NBC more interesting and entertaining. Answer fun questions like “Where did Phil Mickelson play his college golf?” or “How many birdies will Sergio Garcia have on the back nine?”.

The start times to play during this week's API are:

  • Group play, Wednesday: 5 p.m. ET
  • Group play, Thursday: 5 p.m ET
  • Group play, Friday: 5 p.m. ET
  • Round of 16, Saturday: 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Quarterfinals, Saturday: 3 p.m. ET
  • Semifinals, Sunday: 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Finals, Sunday: 4 p.m. ET

Ace all questions during any of the up to 19 rounds (over the course of the four events) for a chance to win $1 million. Or, compete for a chance to win one of dozens of other prizes offered by Callaway, including full sets of clubs with custom fittings at the Callaway Performance Center in Carlsbad, Calif.; Rogue drivers; Toulon-design putters; MD4 wedges and much more. Click here for full details of the official rules.

Disclaimer: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Void where prohibited. Legal residents of the 50 U.S. or DC who are 18 or older. Begins February 27, 2018 at 12:01 a.m. ET and ends March 25, 2018 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Limit 1 entry per person. To enter, and for official rules, odds, and prize details, visit Sponsor: FanBeat, Inc. The $1 million grand prize may be awarded in an annuity or lesser lump sum. Should there be multiple winners, the grand prize will be divided evenly among qualifying winners.

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Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 1:00 pm

Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
(1) D. Johnson (2) J. Thomas (3) J. Rahm (4) J. Spieth
(32) K. Kisner (21) F. Molinari (28) K. Aphibarnrat (19) P. Reed
(38) A. Hadwin
(48) P. Kizzire (43) C. Reavie (34) H. Li
(52) B. Wiesberger
(60) L. List (63) K. Bradley (49) C. Schwartzel
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
(5) H. Matsuyama (6) R. McIlroy (7) S. Garcia (8) J. Day
(30) P. Cantlay
(18) B. Harman (20) X. Schauffele (25) L. Oosthuizen
(46) C. Smith (44) J. Vegas (41) D. Frittelli (42) J. Dufner
(53) Y. Miyazato (51) P. Uihlein (62) S. Sharma (56) J. Hahn
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
(9) T. Fleetwood (10) P. Casey (11) M. Leishman (12) T. Hatton
(26) D. Berger (31) M. Fitzpatrick (23) B. Grace (22) C. Hoffman
(33) K. Chappell (45) K. Stanley (35) B. Watson (36) B. Steele
(58) I. Poulter (51) R. Henley (64) J. Suri (55) A. Levy
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
(13) A. Noren (14) P. Mickelson (15) P. Perez (16) M. Kuchar
(29) T. Finau (17) R. Cabrera Bello (24) G. Woodland (27) R. Fisher
(39) T. Pieters (40) S. Kodaira (37) W. Simpson (47) Y. Ikeda
(61) K. Na (59) C. Howell III (50) S.W. Kim (54) Z. Johnson