Mickelson as optimistic as ever

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2015, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Say this for Phil Mickelson: In his 24th year as a pro, he remains as optimistic as ever.

In a five-minute interview Thursday at the Humana Challenge, he used the words “excited” and “amped” 14 times. Even Tim Tebow thought it was a bit much.

Some years, Mickelson is excited about a new piece of equipment. Others, he’s amped because of his fitness regimen, or his swing changes, or his happy home life. When the season opener rolls around, no one hits the reset button better – or more often – than Mickelson.

The debacle at the Ryder Cup? Hey, he’s looking forward now.

The 2014 season, his worst as a pro? Well, it allowed him to identify his weaknesses.

The first-round 71 in perfect conditions that left him eight shots off the early pace? Oh, he was just too tight.

And you thought Phil only knew how to spin a wedge shot.

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That never-ending optimism is part of his charm, what gives him the confidence to pull off a daring shot or win 42 times on the PGA Tour.

His hopefulness was on full display again Thursday at La Quinta Country Club, despite a scratchy, four-birdie, three-bogey round that likely torpedoed his chances to win this track meet. He’s currently in a tie for 89th.

“Even though this score is the worst score I’ve had in a long time, in months,” he said, “I’m excited about my game and getting back out tomorrow.”

Phil would never admit it, of course, but he seems more than content to let this event serve as his version of spring training – a way to knock off the rust, pound driver all over the lot and play four rounds in perfect weather. He’s excited to compete. Happy to be here. Ready for another great year.

The score matters, sure, but only to immediately validate his good vibes. It is the first round in a long season. Big picture, it is one season in a long career. But the work that Mickelson has done over the past four months has given him the confidence that he can not just compete entering his age-45 season, but win. A lot.

Last year was disappointing. He can’t deny that. He played 21 PGA Tour events and finished in the top 10 only once, at the PGA Championship, where a late bogey doomed his chances for a sixth career major. He didn’t advance to the Tour Championship. And at the Ryder Cup, he was benched for an entire day while the U.S. team lost for the sixth time in seven matches.

But then he disappeared. He went off the grid, popping up only when he accepted a role as an interim assistant coach at Arizona State or through second-hand reports that he has been working hard in the gym – he does look about 15 pounds lighter – and grinding on his game.

Admittedly, there was a lot to address. His swing speed had plummeted. His driving was short and crooked. His wedge game wasn’t as sharp as usual. His putting was a weekly mystery.

It added up to his first winless season since 2003. The first time since 1995 that he finished outside the top 30 in scoring. The first time in his career that he posted one or fewer top 10s.

“I had a lot to improve on,” he conceded.

Mickelson has been in this position before, hoping to use a past year’s failures as fuel for the upcoming campaign. After his winless 2003, Lefty came back with a two-win season that also saw him capture his first major. But back then he was 33, in his athletic prime, with plenty left to prove.

Majors continue to serve as his greatest motivator, but the landscape has changed. The players are bigger and faster and stronger, better, more technically sound, and Mickelson is scrambling to keep pace. History is not on his side. Unless they’re related to Bernhard Langer, players typically don’t get better as they approach 50.

But after poring over data with short-game coach Dave Pelz, Mickelson has (for now) settled on a unique putting approach, using a modified claw grip on putts inside 10 feet while going back to the conventional grip outside that range.

As for his long game, Mickelson said that his body hasn’t felt this good in “years.” That translates to more speed and more distance, and he says that his accuracy is markedly improved as well.

When it doesn’t immediately translate to good scores, like on Thursday, it can be a source of frustration.

“I’ve got to be careful,” he said, “because I get overly excited and I start to force things and I don’t let the round come to me and I don’t get patient. That’s the challenge for me, to put it all together for a score."

In the opening round, he hit 10 fairways and 14 greens, but two misses inside 5 feet derailed any momentum. On a day when 10 players posted rounds of 65 or better, Mickelson’s 71 will force him into an ultra-aggressive mode over the next three days.

“I feel like it’s there,” he said. “I feel like the parts of my game are better than they have been in years and I just need to get it together so the score will reflect it. But I’ve got a good feeling about the next few days."

Would you expect anything different?

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Dunlap, in 'excruciating pain,' shares early Dominion lead

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:29 pm

RICHMOND, Va. – Scott Dunlap and Fran Quinn shot 5-under 67 on Friday to share the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Fighting a left wrist injury that will require surgery, Dunlap matched Quinn with a closing birdie on the par-5 18th on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''Maybe excruciating pain is the key to playing good golf because I'm not getting nervous on a shot, you're just trying to get through it,'' Dunlap said. ''The worst parts are gripping it and getting the club started ... that's when that bone hits that bone.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

The 55-year-old Dunlap entered the week 29th in the standings. Playing through the wrist injury, he's coming off ties for ninth and seventh in his last two starts.

''I think I finally taped it the right way,'' Dunlap said. ''Or maybe it's the pain meds kicking in. I don't know, one of the two.''

Quinn is 64th in the standings.

''I finished up strong last year, too, kind of secured my privileges for the following year making eagle on 18,'' Quinn said. ''I played solid all day. I had a lot of opportunities. A couple hiccups.''

Jay Haas was a stroke back with Kent Jones, Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Tim Petrovic. The 64-year-old Haas won the last of his 18 senior titles in 2016.

Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, were at 69 with Joey Sindelar, Tom Gillis, Billy MayfairLee Janzen, Glen Day and Gene Sauers.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 70. The 61-year-old German star won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the points lead. He has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland had a 71. He's 14th in the standings. No. 3 Jerry Kelly shot 72. No. 4 Scott McCarron, the 2016 tournament winner, had a 74.

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Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.