Phil Mickelson comes up short, Adam Long stuns, Shane Lowry prevails, Tiger Woods returns and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
About an hour after Phil Mickelson snapped a five-year drought by taking the WGC-Mexico Championship last February, he was asked whether he believes that he’ll win seven more events to get to 50.
“Oh, I’ll get there,” he said emphatically. “I don’t have the month or the time, but I will get there.”
Well, Mickelson squandered a golden opportunity Sunday to make some inroads. His putter has been one of the biggest reasons why Lefty has remained relevant against the barrage of 20-something talent, but it abandoned him in the final round of the Desert Classic, where he missed a couple of shorties, shot 69 and wound up one stroke behind long-shot winner Adam Long.
How many more chances will he get this year? With his erratic driving, probably no more than a handful. It needs to be a perfect fit, like PGA West. There’s the issue, too, of his energy levels. Over the past decade, he’s slowed down dramatically by the time the calendar flips to the summer months. He’s vowed to scale back his schedule – so long, Torrey and Riv – and that should help him stay fresh late in the season.
Still, it’s a massive ask, getting seven more Ws, at age 48. He can’t afford many more Sundays like that.
1. It happens a few times a year – think Ted Potter Jr. at Pebble Beach last year – but that doesn't make it any less special.
Who doesn’t love a good underdog story?
I wrote more about it here, but no one, maybe not even Adam Long, saw this one coming: A 63-65 weekend, the final group on Sunday, a one-shot victory over Mickelson and Adam Hadwin.
“When that thing went in,” Long said, “I don’t know, I’ve never felt like that in my life.”
2. The cold-blooded 15-footer to stun Mickelson and Hadwin will be replayed all year, but even more remarkable was the approach that set it up.
From a severe side slope, 175 yards away, Long pulled off this incredible shot into 18:
3. Just how unexpected was Long’s victory?
You can cite any number of stats: He was ranked 417th in the world. He’d won only once, anywhere, since graduating from Duke in 2010. He had collected just four FedExCup points – or $13,568 – this season. He had one made cut on the PGA and Web.com tours in the past five months.
Long was 20 over par across his previous five Tour starts this season, and then he shot 26-under 262 in the desert. He says there was no light-bulb moment, no turning point; just a slow, steady progression, with a massive payoff.
Asked what he was going to do with his life-changing, $1.062 million first-place check, Long said: “I’m keeping my phone off for a while so nobody is asking me for a loan.”
4. Mickelson was right about what cost him the Desert Classic title: his putter. Of the 73 players who teed it up Sunday, only one player putted worse than Mickelson, who lost more than three strokes to the field on the greens, after yanking a 4-footer on the opening hole and missing a couple other makeable putts over the course of a frustrating final-round 69.
Chalk it up to a bad day at a bad time. He's been one of the Tour's best putters over the past few years.
Still, there were a few promising signs with his long game in his 2019 debut.
Healthy and refreshed, he was determined to “crush” drivers all week. And he did, with success: He was eighth in strokes gained: off the tee (despite ranking 65th in accuracy), with the fifth-best ball speed (180 mph) and eighth-highest clubhead speed (119.9).
The challenge, of course, is keeping up those numbers throughout a long season. Maintaining his speed has been the main focus of his offseason workouts, and his success this season likely depends on it.
5. The European Tour played its first event of 2019 last week in Abu Dhabi, and it was a memorable for a couple of reasons:
First, if you haven’t seen it, the European Tour social team dropped another gem, proving yet again that they are demonstrably better than anyone else in golf:
Second, Shane Lowry made history. He became the first player in tour history to make ELEVEN par-3 birdies during a tournament. That’s a deuce on 11 of the 16 par 3s!
And third, Lowry won the tournament, which was significant, because here was a player who had lost his PGA Tour card following his 2015 WGC victory and who had memorably collapsed during the 2016 U.S. Open, when, staked to a four-shot lead, he slumped to a Sunday 76. It looked for all the world like he was about to do it again, too, kicking away another high-profile event. His three-shot lead became a four-shot deficit with seven holes to play, but it took some help from South African Richard Sterne, a clutch par save on 17 and then a rocket into the home hole to win.
This was a well-deserved celebration:
6. Tiger Woods will begin his 2019 campaign this week at Torrey Pines, a brutish venue that used to be his personal playground but in recent years hasn’t been so forgiving.
His tie for 23rd last year was his best result since his win there in 2013, but this will be a good measuring stick for whether Torrey and Tiger are still good fits.
Keep in mind that Woods was largely plagued by injury from 2014-17. (Thus: T80, WD, MC.) It never made much sense for him to play a 7,600-yard track with juicy rough when he was still slowed by a sore back, but, hey, he’s a creature of habit. Last year was his first Tour start in a year, and he was still trying to understand his new body, and he was predictably rusty.
This year? He’s had time to hone his game and dial in his equipment and recover in the gym.
Torrey is a tough place for anyone to start the new year. Let’s see if it’s still the best kickoff point for Tiger, too.
Remember Julio Bell?
The 50-something amateur who embarrassed himself by shooting 93-105 on a sponsor exemption at the Web.com Tour’s Colombia Championship last year?
Well, he resurfaced last week, paying his way into a group at the LPGA’s season-opening Diamond Resorts Championship, playing alongside sports talking head Danny Kanell and LPGA player Amy Yang for the first few rounds. Through three rounds he actually held his own, recording 70 points in the modified Stableford scoring format – at least he beat Larry the Cable Guy, who had a paltry 54 points – but his on-course play wasn’t what was interesting.
It was this ad – paid for by Julio Bell! – that ran during the opening round:
No words 🤨 pic.twitter.com/HFr07l44IB— Tron Carter (@TronCarterNLU) January 17, 2019
Dude is absolutely shameless.
This week's award winners ...
Patience Pays Off: Alvaro Ortiz. No one had come closer at the Latin America Amateur Championship than Ortiz, the Arkansas alum who had a trio of top-3 finishes, including back-to-back runners-up in 2017 and ’18. He finally broke through Sunday, firing a back-nine 31 to take the title and earn a trip to the Masters.
Still #Winning: Eun-Hee Ji. In the LPGA’s winners-only event, Ji stood tall while the big stars around her (Lydia Ko, Brooke Henderson, Ariya Jutanugarn) fell away during a cool, breezy day in Orlando.
You Don’t Say?: Tiger’s world ranking. With a victory at Torrey, Woods could rise as high as No. 6 in the world. It’s getting real, people.
The Biggest Star of Them All at Pebble Beach: Ho-Sung Choi. There's no more unwatchable event on the Tour calendar than the Clambake, but the Internet sensation at least offers some hope that this year will be different.
Move Over, Cam Champ!: Charlie Reiter. It seems like just a few weeks ago that the golf world was buzzing over the absurd length of Champ. Well, there’s another player coming up who might be even longer: Reiter, a 19-year-old freshman at USC. He led the Desert Classic field in driving distance (319 a pop) and capped his third-round 63 with a driver and 227-yard 5-iron to 12 feet. Have mercy.
Luckiest Break of the Year: Jerry Kelly. This is, in a word, ridiculous – and he took advantage of the fortuitous bounce(s) and made eagle.
This is called living right 🤯 pic.twitter.com/HKpVKBhHWN— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) January 20, 2019
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Corey Conners. Most of the usual suspects hit, but if you took a flier on Conners – who the previous week Monday-qualified for the Sony and tied for third while ranking in the top 10 in several statistical categories – you got burned. He managed to shoot only 4 under across three days in absolutely perfect scoring conditions, and he was sent packing before the final round. Sigh.