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Mickelson's WGC win inspires at Valspar

By Will GrayMarch 7, 2018, 9:00 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Three days after he finally got his hands around the trophy, the effects of Phil Mickelson’s drought-breaking victory are still being felt a country over.

Mickelson isn’t in the field at this week’s Valspar Championship, seemingly one of only a handful of stars who have stayed away from the Copperhead Course as the tournament boasts its best field to date. But that didn’t keep his name out of the news Wednesday, as one player after the next stepped up to the microphone to describe the magnitude of his playoff win over Justin Thomas.

Mickelson’s popularity is not just limited to the throng of fans that follow him at tournaments. So when he finally got back into the winner’s circle after nearly five years, the effect was two-fold: it put the young stars on notice that the Tour’s elder statesman can still hang, and it gave hope to a certain 14-time major champ that time has not yet run out.

Tiger Woods is making his tournament debut this week at Innisbrook, marking his first trip here since a co-ed team event in 1996 – when Thomas, Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth were still toddlers. Woods and Mickelson weren’t exactly warm and fuzzy during their respective primes, but they’ve grown closer as the years have passed and Woods was watching Sunday as Mickelson won after a number of recent close calls.

“What Phil is showing us is that can still do it later on in our careers,” Woods said. “Davis (Love III) did it at 51, I believe. Phil is 47. I think Kenny Perry won a handful of events close to 45, 46. So, you know, there are a few guys that can do it late in their career.”

Woods has an entire YouTube library full of tournaments at his disposal where either he or Mickelson left with the trophy, but the perspective is a bit different for the Tour’s younger generation. When Mickelson won The Open in 2013, his most recent victory prior to Sunday, Spieth was still basking in the glow of his breakthrough victory at the John Deere Classic the prior week.


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Spieth’s youth again shone through when he attempted to compare what Mickelson accomplished to Jack Nicklaus’ Masters win in 1986 at age 46 – only to admit that his perspective on the latter is based entirely on hearsay given that he wasn’t born for another seven years.

“Pretty incredible for a guy who has put family first and certainly backed off the amount of time he’s played, and definitely the amount of work on the course with everything that he has off the golf course,” Spieth said of Mickelson. “To be able to come out and compete at that level consistently, I think that speaks to as much as his win.”

That sentiment was echoed by Rory McIlroy, who eschewed last week’s event in Mexico City for some practice time at Augusta National but still took note of the three-time jacket winner’s latest triumph.

“Good to see Phil win last week. He’s been trending in the right direction,” McIlroy said. “I said yesterday I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about him going into this stage of the season, because it seemed like he was flying under the radar a little bit. He was top 5-ing just for fun.”

McIlroy and Spieth have had plenty of time to watch Mickelson rekindle his game over the recent months, cobbling together top finishes and standout performances in team events before all the pieces fell into place in Mexico. But the player who can perhaps derive the most inspiration from Mickelson’s performance is the one who spent much of Lefty’s winless drought on the disabled list.

Indeed, there was a glint in Woods’ eye as he recounted Mickelson’s performance down the stretch in great detail, a clear indicator that he was tuned in for the tournament’s conclusion where the savvy veteran outlasted the rising star.

“It was a very, very small margin, and what he did on Sunday was very, very cool to watch,” Woods said. “He did it. He put the pressure on Justin in the playoff, put it right there pin-high and hit a beautiful putt. I don’t know how it didn’t go in.”

Woods and Mickelson have carved divergent paths to greatness, intersecting on fewer occasions than their decorated records might suggest. But as they approach the twilight of their careers, gently bridging the gap between Ryder Cup players and potential future captaincies, they have begun to focus more on their similarities than differences.

And while the road to recovery facing Woods remains arduous, watching a longtime peer still more than five years his senior keep the latest crop of young stars at bay for a week could very well have offered a much-needed glimmer of hope at just the right time.

“Seeing Phil win I think was really cool for Tiger to recognize, ‘OK, I’ve got all this time to be able to still get to that high level,’” Spieth said. “I haven’t talked to him about that, but I imagine that’s got to be pretty interesting for him to see, and it helps put things in perspective in how much time he still really does have for the top level. And knowing the nature he’s displayed over the last 20 years, it still wouldn’t be surprising if come Masters time he’s in the hunt on Sunday. That’s pretty amazing to say.”

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.


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“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.

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Just like last year, Spieth in desperate need of a spark

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Jordan Spieth has arrived at the Travelers Championship in need of a turnaround. Again.

Spieth’s playoff victory last year over Daniel Berger, complete with a bunker hole-out and raucous celebration, went down as one of the most electrifying moments of 2017. It also propelled Spieth to some more major glory, as he won The Open in his very next start.

So it’s easy to forget the state of Spieth’s game when he first stepped foot on the grounds of TPC River Highlands a year ago. Things were, quite plainly, not going well.

He was struggling on the greens, even going so far as to switch putters at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He then failed to contend at Erin Hills, only netting a T-35 finish thanks to a final-round 69 that came hours before the leaders teed off.

So here we are again, with Spieth in search of a spark after a series of underwhelming performances that included last week’s effort at Shinnecock Hills, where he bogeyed the last two holes of his second round to miss the cut by a shot. Except this time, the climb back to the top may be even steeper than it was a year ago.

“I’m not sure where the state of my game is right now,” Spieth said. “If I strike the ball the way I have been this year, then the results are coming. But the last couple weeks I’ve played Muirfield and then the (U.S.) Open, and I hit the ball really poorly and didn’t give myself that many opportunities to let the putter do the work.”

While many big names play sporadically in the time between the Masters and U.S. Open, Spieth remained as busy as ever thanks to the Tour’s swing through Texas. So even after failing to contend much in the spring outside of a memorable finale in Augusta, and even after struggling for much of his week at TPC Sawgrass, Spieth looked out at his schedule and saw a myriad of possible turning points.

There was the AT&T Byron Nelson, played in his hometown and at a venue on which he was one of only a handful with any experience (T-21). Then a trip across town to Colonial, where he had beaten all but two players in a three-year stretch (T-32).


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Throw in the missed cuts at Muirfield Village and Shinnecock Hills, and Spieth has made it to the last leg of a six-event stretch that has included only one off week and, to date, zero chances to contend come Sunday.

“I think here this week, the key for me is just to get out in the first round and try not to do too much,” Spieth said. “I mean, 90-plus percent of the tournaments the last two years I’ve thrown out my chances to win a golf tournament on Thursday. I’ve had too much to do from here on.”

That was certainly the case last week on Long Island, where Spieth’s hopes for a fourth major title evaporated well before course conditions became a focal point over the weekend. He was 4 over through his first two holes and spent much of the next 34 stuck in a fit of frustration. He gave himself a glimmer of hope with four late birdies Friday followed by a pair of bogeys that snuffed it out with equal speed.

Spieth has continued to preach patience throughout the year, but there’s no getting around some eye-popping stats; he's 188th on Tour this year in strokes gained: putting and 93rd in fairways hit. It can foster a pressure to find a cure-all in any given week, especially given how quickly he got a middling summer back on track last year.

“It’s something that you fight, sure,” Spieth said. “It’s been that way just about every tournament except Muirfield, because then you go to the U.S. Open and think you don’t even have to shoot under par to win this golf tournament. So as much as that kind of comes into your head, it’s not bothering me this time. I’m going to try and have fun, and make progress.”

After this week, Spieth will have some down time with family before making the trip overseas to Carnoustie. He plans to have a few private dinners accompanied by the claret jug, one last toast to last year’s success before turning the trophy back over to the R&A.

But even Spieth admitted that as it pertains to his chances to follow in Brooks Koepka’s footsteps by successfully defending a major title, he’ll be greatly aided by working his way into the mix this weekend. It represents the last chance in this early-summer swing to get his name back on the leaderboard, an opportunity to light fire to a pedestrian campaign like he did a year ago.

No pressure.

“It’s your basic stuff that sometimes gets off, that the harder you try to get them back on sometimes, the worse it gets,” Spieth said. “It can be frustrating, or you can just kind of wait for it to come to you. I think I’m OK with where things are, whether it’s the rest of this year or next year. I feel like there are good scores coming.”

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Twice winner Kizzire on missing U.S. Open: 'Fuel to my fire'

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 5:59 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Based on recent form, there likely wasn’t a more decorated player watching last week’s U.S. Open from home than Patton Kizzire.

Kizzire is in the midst of a breakthrough season that has already included two wins: a maiden victory at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November, and a marathon playoff triumph over James Hahn at the Sony Open in January. While those titles got him into the Masters and the PGA Championship, they didn’t mean an exemption to Shinnecock Hills.

Kizzire got as high as 51st in the world rankings after his win in Honolulu, but his game started to turn shortly thereafter. A T-12 finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship is his lone top-25 finish in 12 starts since his Sony victory, and he missed four straight cuts from the Masters to The Players Championship.


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The U.S. Open grants exemptions to the top 60 in the world at two different cutoff points close to the tournament. But in the midst of a cold streak, Kizzire was 63rd and 65th at each of those deadlines. He attempted to earn a spot at sectional qualifying in Columbus, only to find that his score of 5 under was one shot too many.

“I guess just adding a little fuel to my fire, adding insult to injury,” Kizzire said. “Just to have narrowly missed several different ways of qualification was disappointing. But I just tried to spin it as a positive. I got two weeks off, and I did watch those guys struggle a little bit. I wasn’t struggling at home, we’ll just say that.”

Kizzire hopes to put the disappointment behind him this week at the Travelers Championship, where he finished T-53 a year ago. And while his pair of trophies didn’t get him a tee time last week – or guarantee him a berth in The Open next month – they put him in prime position to make the season-ending Tour Championship, which would mean spots in the first three majors of 2019.

The combination of two recent wins and a ranking outside the top 60 isn’t one that comes up often on Tour, but Kizzire maintains a balanced perspective as he looks to get back to playing the kind of golf that will ensure he doesn’t miss any more majors in the near future.

“If I would have played better in between the U.S. Open and my last win, I would have gotten in. So my play was the reason I wasn’t in,” Kizzire said. “You certainly could look at it and say, ‘This guy’s got two wins, he should be in.’ But I’m not making too much of it.”