How Mickelson became a great links player

By Ryan LavnerJuly 15, 2016, 4:14 pm

TROON, Scotland – His black rain suit was drenched, his feet soaked. He wore two gloves. He used a binder clip on his hat just to keep it from blowing away in the wind. And he marched around Royal Troon without an umbrella, inviting the sideways rain to pelt his face during a five-hour round.

All that misery Friday, and yet Phil Mickelson couldn’t stop smiling.

And why not?

After years of resisting, after countless Opens where he failed to adapt, he has finally given in. He’s finally stopped trying to overpower the golf courses here. At 46, he has finally embraced the vagaries of links golf, and the miserable conditions, so long as it remains fair for all 156 players in the field.

“I really enjoy the challenge that this weather and these elements provide,” he said.

Throughout his career, Mickelson has done most of his damage in ideal weather and at venues that suited his grip-it-and-rip-it game, but here he was hoping for the wind to howl and the rain to pound the course. He knew it would give him an advantage.

Much of his confidence stems from his first few sessions with short-game coach Dave Pelz back in 2003. At the time, Mickelson was 33, and major-less, and both he and Pelz agreed that the toughest event for him to win would be The Open, because it would require a complete overhaul of his aerial attack.

“He has a very descending blow, hits the ball very hard and has more spin on his wedges than most golfers in the world,” Pelz said by phone Friday. “That’s about the worst thing you can do over there in the wind.”


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And so he worked to take some of the spin off Mickelson’s shots with both his short and long clubs. He wanted to get the ball out of the air and on the ground as soon as possible.

“I was taught growing up that to hit the ball low, you scoot the ball back in your stance, which de-lofts the club,” Mickelson said. “The problem is you come in steeper and create a lot more spin. And even though the ball is flying low, it’s spinning. That’s what you don’t want.

“So now the only difference for me is I keep everything the same – ball position, swing, so forth. But I just shorten the backswing a little bit and accelerate through. It doesn’t have enough speed to create the same spin, but it comes in from a shallower angle of attack and gets the ball launching lower without the speed, without the spin.”

During a practice round at St. Andrews in 2005, Mickelson was hitting 150-yard shots from the middle of the fairway. He took two more clubs than usual, made a three-quarter swing and flew the ball about 100 yards, letting the ball run up the rest of the way. After Mickelson hit eight of the 10 balls onto the green, some of them tight, the course superintendent ambled over to Pelz.

“Is he really that good or is he just getting lucky?” he asked.

“He’s really getting pretty good,” Pelz said. “I think he has a chance to win over here.”

It would take until 2013, of course, before Mickelson finally broke through, but he called the win at Muirfield the most satisfying of his career. He isn’t shy about sharing his secret to links-golf success. He’s proud of how he’s become a complete player.

Mickelson has continued to use those lessons here at Royal Troon, where he posted two near-perfect rounds in wildly different conditions.

On Thursday, Mickelson was in complete control of his game while firing the first 63 ever at a Troon Open, his bid for history spinning out on the final green. On Friday, when an annoying rain pushed several players off-track, Mickelson carded four more birdies, dropped his only two shots of the week and remained in front, his second-round 69 leaving him one clear of Henrik Stenson (65). At 10-under 132, Mickelson matched his lowest 36-hole score in a major.

Watching back in Austin, Texas, Pelz was most pleased with Mickelson’s restraint off the tee. Instead of trying to fit a driver or 3-wood into a narrow fairway, Phil the Thrill sacrificed distance and opted for a low, running 2-iron on several holes.

“For the first time in 13 years together, I saw him hitting an iron off the par-5 tees, which is fabulous,” Pelz said. “I don’t care if he gets in trouble around the green – he’s the best wedge player in the world. But when he gets in trouble off the tee, that’s what kills you. This is the way I love to see him play.”

At 46, Mickelson would be the oldest Open champion since 1867, though he was quick to dismiss the relevance of the statistic. Compared to a decade ago, he is 25 pounds lighter, in better shape, physically stronger. “And now that my swing is back on plane,” he said, “I’m starting to hit some shots like I did 10 years ago and starting to play some of my best golf again. I don’t see why there’s any reason why I can’t continue that not just this week but for years.”

It was always assumed that Mickelson would factor the longest at the Masters, thanks to his love affair with Augusta and how well it suits the left-hander’s eye. But maybe it’s the Open (with four top-25s in the past five years) where he’ll experience the most long-term success. It was unthinkable about a decade ago, before his reinvention with Pelz.

“It was all new to him,” Pelz said, “but when he started doing it, it was like a whole other game and he liked it almost immediately. It’s taken a while, like it would for any player, but now he’s gotten very good at it. He’s embracing it more and more.”

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DJ, McIlroy, Spieth listed as PGA betting favorites

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 1:38 pm

Three majors are in the books, but there's still one more trophy up for grabs in two weeks' time.

While next year The Open will signal the end of the 2019 major season amid a revamped calendar, this is the final year that the PGA Championship will be held in August. The tournament returns next month to Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis, which last hosted the PGA when Nick Price won in 1992 and hasn't hosted a PGA Tour event since Camilo Villegas won the 2008 BMW Championship.

Oddsmakers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook published PGA betting odds shortly after the final putt dropped at Carnoustie and Francesco Molinari left with the claret jug. Topping the board are a trio of major champions: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, all listed at 12/1.

McIlroy won the PGA in both 2012 and 2014, while Spieth needs only the Wanamaker Trophy to round out the career Grand Slam. Johnson has recorded four top-10s in the PGA, notably a T-5 finish at Whistling Straits in 2010 when a few grains of sand kept him out of a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

Fresh off a T-6 finish in Scotland, Tiger Woods headlines the group listed at 16/1, behind only the three co-favorites as he looks to win a 15th career major.

Here's a look at the betting odds for a number of contenders, with the opening round of the PGA just 17 days away:

12/1: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth

16/1: Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

18/1: Justin Rose

20/1: Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Jason Day

30/1: Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama

40/1: Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren, Paul Casey

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Webb Simpson

80/1: Adam Scott, Zach Johnson, Kevin Kisner

100/1: Ian Poulter, Thomas Pieters, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Daniel Berger, Kevin Chappell, Brian Harman, Brandt Snedeker, Charley Hoffman

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Molinari moves to No. 6 in world with Open win

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:31 pm

After breaking through for his first career major title, Francesco Molinari reached some rarified air in the latest installment of the Official World Golf Rankings.

The Italian's two-shot win at Carnoustie moved him up nine spots to No. 6 in the world, not surprisingly a new career high. But it's also a quick ascent for Molinari, who has now won three of his last six worldwide starts and was ranked No. 33 in the world after missing the cut at The Players Championship two months ago.

A share of second place helped Xander Schauffele jump from No. 24 to No. 18 in the updated standings, while the same result meant Kevin Kisner went from No. 33 to No. 25. Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy both went up one spot after T-2 finishes to No. 2 and No. 7, respectively - a new career high for Rose.

The drama in the rankings unfolded at No. 50, as Tiger Woods moved up 21 spots to exactly No. 50 following his T-6 finish. While some projections had him moving to 51st, Woods was able to sneak into the top 50 just in time to qualify for a return to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, as the top 50 in the rankings both this week and next qualify for Akron.

That includes Zach Johnson, last year's runner-up who was not yet qualified but moved from No. 52 to No. 49 this week. It also includes Kevin Chappell, who went from 61st to 47th with a T-6 finish in Scotland.

Despite missing the cut at Carnoustie, Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1 for another week followed by Rose, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Molinari is now at No. 6, with McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day rounding out the top 10.

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Simpson overtakes DeChambeau in Ryder Cup race

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:09 pm

A T-12 finish at The Open allowed Webb Simpson to move past Bryson DeChambeau into the eighth and final automatic qualifying spot in the U.S. Ryder Cup points race with just three weeks to go.

Simpson finished the week at 3 under, five shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. Adding another strong result to his win at TPC Sawgrass and T-10 finish at the U.S. Open, he's now edged in front of DeChambeau by less than 41 points. But with players earning one point per $1,000 each of the next two weeks and 1.5 points per $1,000 at the PGA Championship, the race is far from over.

Jordan Spieth's T-9 finish strengthened his position at No. 6, as the top six players are essentially assured of qualifying automatically. Rickie Fowler held onto his spot at No. 7, while Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner both moved onto the bubble following T-2 finishes at Carnoustie. After a T-6 finish, Tiger Woods jumped from 31st to 20th.

Here's a look at the updated American standings, with the top eight after the PGA qualifying automatically and captain Jim Furyk adding four picks in September:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Bubba Watson

6. Jordan Spieth

7. Rickie Fowler

8. Webb Simpson

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9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Xander Schauffele

12. Matt Kuchar

13. Kevin Kisner

14. Tony Finau

15. Brian Harman

On the European side, Molinari was already in position to qualify automatically but is now assured of a spot on Thomas Bjorn's roster this fall. Fellow major champs Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy also solidified their footing with runner-up performances.

Here's a look at how things look for the Europeans, with the top four from each list after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

European Points

1. Francesco Molinari

2. Justin Rose

3. Tyrrell Hatton

4. Tommy Fleetwood

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Thorbjorn Olesen

Russell Knox

Eddie Pepperell

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Alex Noren

3. Rory McIlroy

4. Paul Casey

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Matthew Fitzpatrick

Sergio Garcia

Ian Poulter

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.