Phil has made strides, but lipped putt will sting

By Will GrayFebruary 15, 2016, 1:10 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Fifteen minutes after watching his title hopes carom off the left edge of the final hole he faced at Pebble Beach, Phil Mickelson could only smile and shake his head.

This was where the drought was supposed to end. Hallowed ground, familiar territory, a place he knew and loved against a leaderboard that didn’t seem to pack much of a punch. In the end, it turned into just the latest piece of scar tissue lining the psyche of a five-time major champ.

Mickelson began the day two shots clear at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, seemingly set for a coronation that would lead to his fifth tournament title and first win in nearly three years. Instead, he faltered almost right out of the gates and watched helplessly as Vaughn Taylor caught and passed him.

A birdie on the penultimate hole set the stage for a dramatic Mickelson rally, but that scene ended with him in a state of shock after his final birdie putt – one that would have forced a playoff with Taylor – caught the edge and turned away.

The longest victory drought of his professional career, dating all the way back to the 2013 Open Championship, will extend at least a little while longer.

“Disappointing not to have finished it off today,” Mickelson said. “It’s disappointing not to play a little bit more mistake-free on a final round with the lead. There were a lot of opportunities, easy up-and-downs that I didn’t capitalize on to keep the round going. I let a lot of shots slide there.”

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Mickelson opened with a trio of unsteady pars and began to leak oil with bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5. While he regained the lead by the time he made the turn, Mickelson wasn’t under par at any point of his final round and seemed to spend the entire day in chase mode despite his starting position.

“I played a bit tighter throughout the round than I wanted to,” he said. “I was trying to kind of free it up, but I didn’t salvage pars on some holes that I needed to salvage pars.”

Equipped with hindsight, there were certainly a few clues that a clunker was within reach for Mickelson despite three straight rounds this week of 68 or better. He continued to tinker with his equipment throughout the tournament, and even after a third-round 66 he opted for a swing session with new coach Andrew Getson.

While Mickelson professed that his overnight consult with Getson was productive, the end result was an even-par 72, six shots higher than the day prior, and ultimately one shot too many.

“We came out, had a nice session in the morning,” he said. “I made some good swings. A good drive on (No.) 2, which told me that I was on the right track. I thought I hit it OK today.”

But the cozy confines of Pebble Beach can accentuate even the smallest flaws. After successfully scraping it around Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula, Mickelson found only 18 of 36 greens in regulation over the weekend at the host course, including nine of 18 on Sunday.

Even for a player blessed with perhaps the best short game of all time, it was simply too much scrambling to manage.

Given a few moments to reflect, Mickelson opted to highlight the positives from this four-week stretch to open a new season. He has finished T-11 or better three times in that span, including a pair of top-three results.

Another close call only whetted his appetite and heightened his sense of determination, a term that he continued to circle back to during post-round comments. After a week off, he said, he’ll head with vigor to Honda, and Doral after that.

But make no mistake, this one hurt. Mickelson carried a 54-hole lead into a tournament for the first time since the 2013 U.S. Open, and while this particular dose of heartbreak isn’t quite on the same scale as Merion, Mickelson’s comments belied a man already racked with regret.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in that position, it’s been a while since I’ve led a tournament, and it’s been a while since I’ve felt like I was playing this well, where my expectations were a lot higher,” he said.

Taylor will be characterized as a deserving champion with a rich backstory of his own, but this round – this tournament – has been about Mickelson. It has been the culmination of a month-long stretch, a decorated champion showing fans and peers alike that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.

But Mickelson’s defining moment from this tournament won’t be any of the birdies he made, or the drives he striped, or the cheers he received. It will be that final putt, the final stroke that drifted just off-line and left him wondering once again what could have possibly gone wrong.

The momentum he conjured here may help down the line, but it will do little to blunt the sting from the sobering fact that this will go down as yet another trophy that got away.

“It makes me more determined to get back to work and get this thing right, because I know that I’m on the right track,” he said. “I know that I’m close to being where I want to be. But if I was there, I would have been able to finish it off.”

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

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“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”