Getty Images

Phil's apology could have quashed incident days ago

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Better late than never.

Phil Mickelson’s mea culpa came five days after he turned the U.S. Open upside down. It came after an attempt to rationalize his mind-boggling efforts on the 13th green only made things worse, and four days after he opted to show up for the final round at Shinnecock Hills but declined comment on the imbroglio that nearly overshadowed Brooks Koepka’s successful title defense.

But finally, from behind a keyboard rather than in front of a microphone, he lent clarity to one of the strangest moments of a decorated career.

“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down. My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend,” Mickelson wrote. “I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”

It’s a statement that will hopefully serve as a coda to a controversy that bled into the first few days of the Travelers Championship. It’s also one that several players at TPC River Highlands believe Mickelson would have been well-served to issue in the immediate aftermath rather than attempting to inject intent into a momentary lapse.

“The problem was when he started to justify it,” said Graeme McDowell. “People were like, ‘Oh, did he kind of maybe try to do that on purpose?’ And then all of a sudden the integrity of the game starts coming into question. When if he’d have just said, ‘I lost my mind for a second. I can’t believe I just did that. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done on a golf course. Sorry, guys.’ If he’d have said that right away, it would have been over, finished, the end. And then no DQ comments would have come into it.”

Mickelson has spent the past 25 years staying one step ahead, be it with his comments to the media or his actions on and off the course. The man shows up to the Masters in a button-down shirt and elicits guffaws; the laughs died down the next month when Lefty revealed that he had taken an equity interest in the shirt manufacturer and was quite literally benefiting from the attention his wardrobe choices had received.

But after being bludgeoned by a borderline setup on his 48th birthday, Mickelson appeared to have finally fallen victim to a fleeting moment of frustration. Not a premeditated attempt to save a shot, or to avoid further embarrassment ping-ponging across a crusty green. Simply a man driven to his breaking point for all the world to see.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“As a player that’s been in that head space at that tournament, I can see it happening to people,” said Rory McIlroy. “Look, it’s a tournament that Phil has come so close to winning over the past few years. He’s probably seen what’s happened over the past few years at that tournament, and it’s frustrated him because it’s the only one that he hasn’t won. Plus, it’s probably becoming the hardest one to win for anyone because it is a bit of a lottery at times.”

Mickelson remains a man of the people, a flawed hero who goes for broke even after that mindset cost himself more than a couple tournaments. It’s a relatable and charismatic trait, one that helps weekend hackers stuck behind a tree feel a connection to a man who once turned a similar situation into a green jacket.

And having accrued more than two decades of positive equity by forging a path that other players don’t dare to take, Mickelson had more than enough goodwill banked to fess up after the putt-slap and avoid being pilloried.

But just as the cover-up is often worse than the crime, so too Mickelson’s decision to spin his actions Saturday afternoon – combined with his calculated decision to offer no further explanation after returning for the final round – only threw gas on the fire.

“It was very interesting. I didn’t understand it, and the USGA obviously didn’t understand what was all going on,” said Patrick Reed. “Phil, I don’t even really think he understood what was all transpiring at the moment.”

“I honestly think that he just tried to come up with a story to make it go away, and inadvertently caused the opposite reaction,” added McDowell.

Player opinion remains divided on several aspects of the Mickelson situation, and there are still those who believe Mickelson should have been disqualified for his actions, regardless of his intent or lack thereof. But the topic most players agreed on was that this situation won’t tarnish Mickelson’s overall legacy.

Eventually, the news will cycle out and Mickelson will continue his quest for a sixth major title without being dogged by a regrettable moment when he essentially channeled the impulse of a pro-am participant looking to escape to the next tee.

Even though questions will linger when he tees it up next at The Greenbrier, and likely again when the international press gathers at The Open, Mickelson will be well-served to have finally taken some ownership of a poor choice in the heat of the moment, rather than to attempt to explain it away as a calculated move.

It’s a tactic that likely would have proven even more beneficial under the heat of the spotlight at Shinnecock Hills. But better late than never.

“Why he tried to justify it, I’ll never know. Maybe he thought it was the right thing to do at the time,” McDowell said. “But I think as a golfer, we all understand the frustration, and just the mental lapse he had in that second when he did it.

“It was just Phil being Phil. Trying to apply science to madness.”

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.


Getty Images

Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

Getty Images

After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

Getty Images

Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.