At 43, Phil captures British with best golf of career

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2013, 9:07 pm

GULLANE, Scotland – After capping the best round of his career with another birdie, and with both arms still thrust into the air, Phil Mickelson floated toward a misty-eyed Jim “Bones” Mackay.

“I did it,” Mickelson said, wrapping his arms around his trusty caddie of more than 20 years.

He had captured a major title in his 40s.

He had transformed his game to win the British Open.

He had rebounded from the most devastating loss of his career.

And he had done so with epic Lefty flair – with birdies on four of his last six holes for a 5-under 66 and a three-shot victory that cemented his legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats, as a complete player.

“After you work with a guy for 21 years,” Mackay said near the clubhouse afterward, “it’s pretty cool when you see him play the best round of golf he’s ever played in the last round of the British Open.”

At 43, Mickelson says he’s playing and putting as well as he ever has, if not better. He’s managing his arthritis, and he’s as strong, fit and title-hungry as he was back in his days at Arizona State. “He really, really wants it,” Mackay said. “You can’t underestimate how much he wants to compete and do well.”



But Mickelson readily admits that even he had doubts, that he wasn’t sure that winning the Open was in his future. Doing so would require an evolution of his swing-from-the-heels style, adding an arsenal of shots to a Hall of Fame game that has already notched 40-plus wins on the PGA Tour.   

Each year he turns up at the Masters believing that he’s going to win. Same at the U.S. Open, where he is a record six-time runner-up. But over the years, the British Open has proved far more elusive. In his first nine tries at the Open as a pro, he finished no better than 11th.

“Of the four majors,” said his wife, Amy, “he hasn’t necessarily thought of himself as able to conquer this.”

That mentality began to shift in 2004 at Royal Troon, where after an opening 73 Mickelson shot three consecutive rounds in the 60s and fell one shot out of the playoff.

It was emboldened two years ago at Royal St. George’s, where he played a flawless front nine Sunday before being blown away late en route to a T-2 finish.

And it was reinforced, finally, during his playoff victory last week at Castle Stuart in firm-and-fast conditions.

“The big thing for Phil is that he’s learned to embrace links golf,” said his swing coach, Butch Harmon. “He learned how to put the ball down on the ground and play more under control.”

A few days ago, over breakfast, daughter Sophia asked her father:

If you’re at a course that is difficult for you, and if you’re not going to win, is it better to miss the cut and go home, or to keep trying to figure it out?

His answer: Always keep playing, especially in preparation for this major, because any chance to gain more experience in the elements, hitting and creating new shots, can help you learn how to win.

Sure enough, Mickelson was five shots down with 18 holes to go and still believed he could win, despite posting just a pair of top 10s in 17 previous Open appearances. In fact, before he kissed the family goodbye and left their rented house on Sunday, he told Amy: “I’m gonna go get me a claret jug today.”

Starting the day at 2 over, Mickelson made birdies on Nos. 9 and 13 to move back to even for the tournament, then reeled off birdies on 14, 17 and 18 to seal the three-shot victory over Henrik Stenson

Most impressive, however, may have been Lefty’s gritty par save on the 16th. His tee shot landed on the green about 20 feet short of the flag, but the ball kept creeping toward the front of the green and eventually rolled all the way down the left side. Assessing his options, he calmly told Bones, “I can get this up-and-down,” and, indeed, he clipped his pitch shot off the baked-out turf and sank a slippery 8-footer to stay one shot clear.

A hole later, Mickelson launched back-to-back 3-woods – that club, he says, has “altered my career” – on the par 5 and two-putted from 30 feet to take a two-shot cushion to the final hole. For good measure, his 6-iron from 185 yards gathered 10 feet behind the hole, and he buried the putt to punctuate “one of the best rounds of my career.”

Standing on the 18th green, Amy Mickelson compared the overwhelming emotions to the 2004 Masters, when Phil broke through after going 0-for-42 in golf’s biggest events.

“But this is a different kind of meaningful,” she said. “We were just staring at (the trophy), like, your name is on the claret jug. It’s very surreal, and I think it might be the most meaningful to him, because it’s the most unexpected.”

Not least because of what transpired five weeks ago at Merion.

It was Mickelson’s most crushing defeat in a career that has seen its share of high-profile flameouts. Late bogeys on 13, 15 and 18 that Sunday extended his own record of six runners-up at the year’s second major, the one he most desperately wants to win.

That close call hurt even worse than the ’06 Open at Winged Foot, where he didn’t truly expect to win, not after hitting only two fairways on Sunday.

For two days last month, Mickelson “didn’t really get out of bed,” Amy said. “Totally a shell (of himself). That’s not like him.”

Thankfully, on Wednesday after the Open, the Mickelsons were off to Montana for a planned vacation with four other families. Rafting. Zip lining. Fly-fishing. Archery. Every day was jam-packed with activities, meaning there was no time to mope or dwell on what could have been.

At that moment, Mickelson knew that his 2013 season was a critical juncture.

“It could have easily gone south,” he said, “where I was so deflated that I had a hard time coming back. But I looked at it and thought I was playing really good golf. I had been playing some of the best in my career. And I didn’t want it to stop me from potential victories this year, and some potential great play.”

After a missed cut at The Greenbrier, Mickelson was thoroughly impressive at the Scottish Open in winning in Europe for the first time in two decades. And now, after early rounds of 69-74-72, and a near-flawless Sunday performance, Mickelson joins the roster of Hall of Famers who have hoisted the claret jug at Muirfield.

“This is just a day and a moment that I will cherish forever,” he said. “This is a really special time, and as fulfilling a career accomplishment as I could ever imagine.”

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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.


Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open


Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.