Open week, and all it brings, is here for Mickelson

By Rex HoggardJune 9, 2014, 3:45 pm

When Phil Mickelson sets out for his 24th U.S. Open just before 8 a.m. on Thursday it will arguably be the most pressure packed major championship since Tiger Woods put the finishing touches on the Tiger Slam at the 2001 Masters.

Much of the pressure is self-inflicted, while other elements remain shrouded in the secrecy of a federal investigation. The byproduct, however, will be the most intense week of the 43-year-old’s life.

Within moments of winning the Open Championship last July, Mickelson was the first to arrive at the grand crossroads that will make this week’s national championship so scrutinized.

“If I’m able to win the U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam, I think that that's the sign of the complete great player,” he said at Muirfield. “I'm a leg away. And it's been a tough leg for me. There’s five players that have done that. Those five players are the greats of the game. You look at them with a different light.”

Since that sunny afternoon on the Scottish coast there has been no hedging, no backtracking, no attempt to cast this week’s championship as anything other than a historic opportunity.

Much of Mickelson’s motivation to go head-to-head with his Grand Slam ambitions were born at Muirfield, where he ended nearly two decades of frustration with a closing 66 that Lefty dubbed the greatest round he’d ever played.

“Ever since he won last year at Muirfield the (career) Grand Slam became an option, something he probably thought he couldn’t do,” said Mickelson’s swing coach Butch Harmon. “Once we bought into how we wanted him to play, he’s not afraid to talk about it.”

If Woods’ career has been largely defined by unquestionable consistency, Mickelson’s has been myriad peaks and valleys. For every Muirfield there has been a Merion, every Augusta National offset by a Winged Foot.

Phil Mickelson

Photos: Mickelson's U.S. Open runner-up finishes

But in a uniquely Mickelson way, he has decided to view the Grand Slam chalice half full.

“Some people view it as though he's come close and he's never done it,” Mickelson recently explained. “I see it as though I've finished second six times (at the U.S. Open), I played some of my best golf in this event, and that I should have an opportunity, and more than one opportunity, to close one out here in the future.”

Of those six bridesmaid finishes at the U.S. Open, the first came in 1999 at Pinehurst when the late Payne Stewart scrambled for par at the 72nd hole to beat Mickelson by a shot.

The No. 2 course at Pinehurst is particularly suited to Mickelson’s unique brand of golf, an often-wayward game that leans heavily on Lefty’s creativity and touch.

There will be plenty of parallels between this week and the ’99 Pinehurst Open for Mickelson – the quirky layout, the call of the national championship and a cloud of uncertainty looming just outside the ropes.

During that pitched final round in ’99, Mickelson spent the day electronically attached to a pager – for those born after 2000 think of a very short text message without emoticons. If the call came Lefty made it clear he would leave the Open to be there for the birth of his first child, Amanda, who was born the day after the final round.

Many of Mickelson’s triumphs and tragedies have been defined by such turmoil, which in a counterintuitive way makes this week’s championship almost the status quo.

As if Mickelson’s decision to embrace the enormity of the career Grand Slam wasn’t enough, the world learned two weeks ago that he has been under investigation by the FBI and Security and Exchange Commission for the better part of the last two years for possible insider trading.

On Saturday at the Memorial Tournament, two days after being approached by federal agents in Ohio, Mickelson dismissed the investigation.

“I can’t really go into much right now, but as I said in my statement, I have done absolutely nothing wrong. And that's why I've been fully cooperating with the FBI agents, and I'm happy to do so in the future, too, until this gets resolved,” Mickelson said at Muirfield Village. “Hopefully it will be soon, but for right now I can't really talk much about it.”

But then distractions large and small have defined Mickelson’s career.

Phil Mickelson

Photos: Mickelson's major triumphs

In May 2009, Mickelson announced that his wife, Amy, had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that he would, “suspend his PGA Tour schedule indefinitely.” Three weeks later he finished second at the U.S. Open, his fifth runner-up in the championship, and he went on to win that season’s Tour Championship.

At the 2010 U.S. Open, Mickelson began feeling the onset of psoriatic arthritis, a condition that causes the immune system to attack the body’s joints and tendons and which left him in so much pain he couldn’t walk. At Pebble Beach, the ailment kept Mickelson from being able to grip the golf club completely and he finished fourth in the national championship with his left index finger extended during his swing.

“If you noticed, it was straight. But it was my bottom finger so I just let it hang off the shaft. I didn't really notice it. I mean, I noticed it, but it didn't affect the shot,” said Mickelson, who played his final nine holes in 39 and finished three strokes behind champion Graeme McDowell.

The federal investigation, along with his quest to complete the career Grand Slam, will be a distraction, but Mickelson is the master of compartmentalization.

“He doesn’t hide behind anything. He is very resilient person,” Harmon said. “He reminds me of a cornerback in the NFL, the last play never happened. He has the ability to put stuff behind him.

“He’s very open about (winning the career Grand Slam), a lot of guys would say, ‘It’s just another week.’ That’s not Phil’s style.”

With a mountain of distractions vying against him, it would be easy to dismiss Mickelson’s Grand Slam chances. After all, Arnold Palmer finished second at the PGA Championship three times but never cleared the career Grand Slam hurdle.

But that ignores Lefty’s history, if not his habitual ability, to rise above the chatter. It’s all born from his singular DNA. The same guy who airmailed his U.S. Open chances into the corporate tents left of Winged Foot’s 18th fairway, has won green jackets from the pine straw at Augusta National and claret jugs from the Scottish fescue.

Mickelson’s greatest attribute may be his inability to delude himself.

“It’s easier to be honest and up front about what I'm feeling and going through than it is to try and deny it, which is why, when I lose, I talk about how tough it is, because it is,” Mickelson said. “It's challenging. Like it was the biggest defeat . . . I had such a down moment after losing at Merion. The same thing at Winged Foot.”

Hiding from the obvious isn’t Mickelson’s style. He knows there is nothing normal or mundane about this week, just a historical opportunity – nothing more, nothing less.

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”