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3:51PM

For Mickelson, a vacant spot as a golfer but not as a man

By Art Spander

ERIN, Wis. — Phil Mickelson couldn’t make it to the first round of the U.S. Open. But he made it as a father. As a family man. As someone who decided what’s important in life.

There may be a vacant spot in his resume as a golfer, but not as a man.

Phil is an easy person to admire. And, now and then, to dislike. He’s public in his displays, the opposite of the individual with whom he was so long compared, Tiger Woods.

Tiger is a CIA operative, furtive, laying low. Mickelson seems at times to be waving at us, saying, “Look at what I’m doing.”

He rarely goes unnoticed. In 1999, he had caddy Bones MacKay, the same one still in his employ, carry a beeper in the golf bag during the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, just in case Phil’s wife, Amy, gave birth to the couple’s first child. Mickelson said he would leave immediately if contacted.

Some thought it was grandstanding. But moments after Payne Stewart made the putt on the 18th green to beat Phil and win the tournament, he held Mickelson’s face between his hands and told him, “You’re going to be a father, and there's nothing greater in the world. You and Amy are going to make wonderful parents."

A day later, Amanda Stewart was born, and Phil, having sped back across the country — he then was living in Arizona — was at Amy's bedside.

Now it is 18 years later, and Thursday another U.S. Open began. But for the first time since 1993, Mickelson was not in the field. He had withdrawn hours earlier to stay in southern California, where the family now resides, to hear Amy give the commencement speech at Pine Ridge School in Carlsbad.

Life is all about timing. And decisions. Phil had this rather grandiose plan. He would attend the school ceremonies, then, with thunderstorms in the long-range forecast, immediately fly to a small airport near Erin Hills, the Open course, some 25 miles northwest of Milwaukee, and maybe make a delayed tee time.

He was a day late, unfortunately. On Wednesday, lightning, thunder and pounding rain eliminated practice rounds at Erin Hills. And more of the same is forecast for Friday. But Thursday was clear and hot, 84 degrees. There were no delays. There was only Mickelson’s withdrawal, opening a spot that would be filled by an alternate, Roberto Diaz of Mexico.

This brought to mind the lyrics of an old Sinatra song, Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry: “When I want rain I get sunny weather ... ” For once at a tournament, Mickelson could have used some rain, more specifically an electrical storm. But it wasn’t to be.

The subplot is that the U.S. Open is the only one of the four majors never won by Mickelson, who Friday turns 47 and is in the twilight of a career that already gained him election to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Six times he has been second, including 2006 at Winged Foot, when he blew the lead with a double bogey on the 72nd hole, and ’99, when Stewart outdueled him.

We remember the failures even more than the successes. Sam Snead never won a U.S. Open, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer failed to win a PGA. John McEnroe and Pete Sampras didn’t win a French Open. Until last fall, the overriding issue in American sport was that the Cubs hadn’t won a World Series for more than a century.

The Cubs broke the spell. Mickelson almost definitely will not. He’ll be too old to win the 2018 Open, at Shinnecock Hills, where in 2004 he was runner-up to Retief Goosen.

If this year’s Open had been at Torrey Pines in San Diego, as was the one in 2008, Phil would've been just a half-hour from Amanda’s school and been able to play. But he wasn’t. And he couldn’t. And who knows how he would have done, anyway?

Some may think of this Thursday in June for what Phil Mickelson could have done. Others will cherish what he did: join his daughter and family for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Good going, Phil.

10:22PM

Rain for Safeway Open — what else can go wrong?

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — All right. We surrender. What else can go wrong?  The Niners are awful. The Giants disintegrate. Tiger pulls a fast one. And now Mother Nature has decided to punch us around.

We wanted rain, we've been complaining about a drought that’s lasted, what, 50 years? But not this weekend. Not for the first PGA Tour event of the new season.

When it was the Frys Open, weather for the tournament the last two Octobers at Silverado Country Club was exactly as autumn is supposed to be in Northern Cal, warm and most importantly dry. Then Safeway takes over and splish, splash, we were taking a bath.

When does it rain in Napa in the fall? When does it rain in Napa ever? But stage a golf tournament, and the place turns into Scotland. More umbrellas than birdies — and there were dozens of birdies. Not enough fans, certainly, but who wants to spend a Saturday getting soaked?

Johnson Wagner spent it taking the lead in a third round of the Safeway that came to an abbreviated end with darkness encroaching, greens being squeegeed and starting times for Sunday’s scheduled final round moved up some two and a half hours to escape yet another storm.

This has turned into one of those to-be-continued episodes of not so much hand-wringing drama but towel-wringing ennui. The second round, which started on Friday, finally finished on Saturday morning, Scott Piercy playing six holes to stay in first at 15-under-par, a shot in front of Wagner and Paul Casey. It was dry. But not for long.

And so the third round began — and so did the rain and wind. Wagner, 36, a three-time winner on Tour, was on Silverado’s par-5 16th hole when play was suspended.

He was at 15-under-par after going 12-under for the first 36 holes. Piercy, also through 15, and Patton Kizzire, through 16, were 14-under. Casey was 13-under through 15 holes.

The main man for attention, not competition, Phil Mickelson, did finish 54 holes, if hardly the way he or the fans — his gallery was three times the size of anybody else’s early on — had wished. 

Phil did come in with a third straight 69, and his round included an eagle three on the par-five fifth. But he closed with a bogey-six on the 18th, also a par-five. His three-round total of 207 is a tentative eight shots out of the lead.

“I did hit a lot more good drives,” said Mickelson. “The last couple of holes, when it got wet, I got stuck. I didn’t match up my speed on the greens. They’re in perfect shape and rolling true, and you can get hot on the greens. I just haven’t done it yet.”

If he doesn’t do it Sunday, he won’t do it at all. Not at the Safeway, at least. And not for a while. His next scheduled tournament is the Career Builder Challenge in February in Palm Desert, the former Bob Hope tournament. There shouldn’t be rain there.

Wagner, along with the others, had started the week on a course that was fast, the ball flying. Then came the downpour.

“It was primed to be a firm, fast, awesome event,” said Wagner, “and Friday I hit my first shot to the green and it plugged out of the rough. I couldn't believe how much water we had had overnight.”

Those who have been taking quick showers or were hesitant to water the back lawn surely are pleased with all that water. The golfers, while recognizing California’s situation, would have preferred the rain didn’t arrive until, say, Monday.

“It was so brutal out there the last few holes,” said Wagner, “I was hanging on, hitting balls to the green ... getting up and down and making par putts and really just trying to survive and make as many pars as I could — just tick them off hole by hole, okay, two more to go, let's just get this thing in."

Which they couldn’t.

“So I think it had an effect on the other players. I don't know how anybody else played, but it was difficult.” 

And very, very wet.

9:11PM

No Tiger, but plenty of Phil — and Scott Piercy

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — So he’s not here. That’s the way it goes. Sport isn’t always what we would wish. Tiger Woods withdraws. The Giants blow a ninth-inning lead.

You can’t always get what you want, the Rolling Stones lyrics advise. Life goes on. The games go on.

Woods was one of a kind. Still is, although he hasn’t played a tournament round in more than a year. In a sport dependent on personalities, Woods was a transcendent personality.

He reached the ultimate status, known by people who don’t know much — if anything — about golf. The way Pavarotti was known by those who didn’t know anything about opera.

The method of Woods’ withdrawal, pulling out the three days after making a formal commitment, was vexing to some, irritating to others. Too much about someone among the missing? Probably, but that complaint was lodged back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when the issue dealt with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

“Why are you always writing about people who aren’t playing?” wondered unhappy executives from the PGA Tour. “Write about the others, then people will want to watch them.”

As we know, that’s a false hope. It’s the Steph Currys and Buster Poseys — and Tiger Woodses — who, through success and charisma, draw the fans.

That said, the first Safeway Open is under way at Silverado Country Club. (First, because the event previously was sponsored by Frys). And in the opening round Thursday, Scott Piercy, who if he’s not Tiger also isn’t anonymous, shot a record 10-under-par 62 on the North Course.

The slogan, “These guys are good,” is an understatement. The guys who play the Tour are great — even though Silverado isn’t Oakmont or Olympic, a 62 is a 62 — and in a way Tiger’s fame helped others come to the understanding.

If the fans bought tickets because of Woods, well, they were privileged to watch somebody else, Piercy, go seven-under-par on his first 10 holes and finish with 12 birdies out of the 18 holes. Remarkable.

The Safeway is the first tournament of the Tour’s rather confusing wrap-around season. The calendar may read 2016, but the schedule says 2017. The idea is to make the autumn tournaments seem important, even if they’re lost somewhere among the baseball playoffs and college and pro football.

“Oh man,” said Piercy of his spectacular round, “I think I made more feet of putts than I did all last season.” Last season, of course, ended only two weeks ago, as if it matters. There’s a course. There’s a tournament. Play on.

Phil Mickelson has his own schedule, but fortunately the Safeway is on that schedule. This is Phil’s farewell until the Career Builder Challenge, the former Bob Hope Desert Classic, in January. Maybe there’s no time off for the Tour, but there will be for Mickelson, now 46.

He began the Safeway with consecutive bogies but came in with a three-under 69 and, although it was 5:21 p.m., with the day’s largest gallery. And why not? As Tiger has, Mickelson earned the following. Five majors and a lot of smiles gain anyone a high degree of respect and approval.

“I have to be careful energy-wise,” said Mickelson of his slow start, “because it’s been a very emotional and long year, ending and culminating with the high degree of the Ryder Cup.”

Mickelson led the British Open at Troon in July, then finished second behind Henrik Stenson. Two weeks ago, he was the de facto leader, and as a competitor he was a major factor in America’s first Ryder Cup victory since 2008. His presence at the Safeway should not go unappreciated — and it hasn’t been.

“I didn’t have much time off,” said Mickelson after the Ryder Cup triumph, ”so I’ve got to maintain energy. I got off to a slow start. I wasn’t as focused as I need to be, but I put myself in position where (Friday) I can get hot on the greens, get perfect greens in the morning, get it going, shoot six, seven, eight-under-par and get right back in it for the weekend.”

No Tiger at the Safeway, but plenty of Phil and Scott Piercy. It could be worse. Much, much worse.

10:19PM

Los Angeles Times: U.S. wins Ryder Cup for first time since 2008

By Art Spander
Los Angeles Times

CHASKA, MINN. — It was a Sunday of laughter and tears, of success and relief. It was an afternoon on the prairie when America’s golfers stood up to anxiety and knocked down the criticism.

It was the day the United States finally won the Ryder Cup.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2016 Los Angeles Times

9:01AM

Los Angeles Times: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson spark U.S. to three-point lead in Ryder Cup

By Art Spander
Los Angeles Times

CHASKA, MINN. — It was golf, and it was played in Minnesota. But to Phil Mickelson, very much a man in full — and loving it — it was just like basketball, in the Bay Area.

He had holed a long birdie putt on this beautiful autumn Saturday afternoon when the United States zoomed into the Ryder Cup lead at Hazeltine National Golf Club, and Mickelson, after doing a shimmy — at age 46, no less — had a hoops analogy.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2016 Los Angeles Times