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9:30PM

At the Safeway, Snedeker stays and Mickelson tumbles

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — Phil Mickelson was right. His game wasn’t that sharp. Brandt Snedeker also was right. He does well playing with a lead.

Mickelson, everyone knows. He’s golf Hall of Famer. Snedeker, everyone should know. He shot a 59 a few weeks ago, has won the Tour Championship, finished first twice in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and appears headed for another victory in Northern California.

One of the enduring figures of the PGA Tour, Snedeker decided to try the Safeway, the opening tournament of the wrap-around 2018-19 schedule, after bypassing it the last two years. So far, it looks like a brilliant move.

Three rounds into the Safeway, Snedeker has a three-shot lead. Or should we say still has a three-shot lead? Birdies on the final three holes Saturday at Silverado Country Club, a par-5, a par-4 and a par-5, gave him a 3-under 69 and 54-hole total of 16-under 200.

Second at 203 after a 4-under 68 is Kevin Tway, whose father, Bob, in 1996 won a PGA Championship and in 1991 finished second in the Telcom Tucson Open to an amateur named Phil Mickelson.

Time does fly. And Saturday, Mickelson’s chances for a win — even though he had broken 70 the first two days — also flew away.

Starting the round in a tie for second, three shots behind Snedeker, Mickelson shot 74 to end up eight shots back, at 208.

So much for the post–second-round banter between Snedeker and Mickelson.

“I sent him a text,” said Snedeker of dealing with Mickelson. “I gave him a hard time because he said he was playing terrible, then I saw him (Friday) make six birdies in a row. He said, ‘Well, I’m not quite confident yet.’ But he’s a great California player. Won a bunch in his career here.”

Snedeker, 37, who’s from Nashville and played for hometown school Vanderbilt, has won three in California, the two at Pebble (2013 and 2015) and the Farmers in San Diego (2016). Another could be a day away.

“It was a struggle, a grind,” Snedeker said of his third round at the Safeway. “The wind kicked up on the last 12, 13 holes and made it hard to hit it close and make birdies.

“So I did a great job of kind of staying patient and surviving with sort of mediocre ball-striking. Knowing I had 16, 17, 18 ahead for birdie holes, and really proud of the way I stepped up and hit some quality shots when I needed to.”

Snedeker’s career has been kicked around by injuries. A year ago, he missed weeks with a sore sternum. Then in 2018, after the 59 and win at the Wyndham, which he thought would give him the boost he needed to make the Ryder Cup, he had another injury.

Mickelson, of course, was on the American team in the Ryder Cup in France, which ended a week ago, Snedeker followed from afar.

“I watched the Ryder Cup,” said Snedeker. “Obviously my not being there was tough. I watched and cheered for the guys. I have a bunch of friends on the team. Every time you miss that week, being together with all those guys, rekindling friendships, you feel left out.

“You don’t want to ever do it again. It gives you a hard look in the mirror.”

The look that Snedeker, a nine-time winner, has been giving this week is one of success. He had five birdies and two bogies Saturday.

“Majors and winning is all I care about,” said Snedeker.

He has a third in the Masters and a tie for third in the British Open. It you putt as accurately as he does, you can do well in any event, major or not major.

“I really care about getting that major win as many times as possible,” he said, “winning as many times as I possibly can. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to get every little bit of talent in my body.”

Which every athlete is supposed to do, no matter the sport.

8:41PM

Phil (The Thrill) Mickelson keeps on pace in the Safeway

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — He once had a caddy tend the flagstick on a shot 75 yards from the cup (no, it didn’t go in). He won $400,000 by betting on the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXX. He whacked a ball around a putting green and took a 10 in this year’s U.S. Open.

Phil Mickelson is a chance-taker, a self-believer, a fabulous putter and, contrary to the norm of lefthanders playing righthanded, notably Ben Hogan and Johnny Miller, a righthander who plays lefthanded.

And at age 48, in other words two years away from the Champions Tour (newspeak for the Seniors), Phil is in a tie for second halfway through the Safeway Open at Silverado Country Club.

You want some perspective? Mickelson, at 10-under-par 134 after Friday’s round, is one in front of Kevin Tway, whose father, Bob, was beaten by Phil 27 years ago in the 1991 Tucson Telcom Open.

That’s when Mickelson, a 20-year-old junior at Arizona State at the time, became the last amateur to win a PGA Tour tournament.

So if Phil is wonderfully unpredictable and charmingly arrogant, there are reasons. As did his rivals, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, Mickelson won the U.S. Amateur and NCAA championship. Phil was on the cover of Golf Digest before he turned pro, with the headline, “How good is this kid?”

More than a quarter-century later, we know the answer: Good enough to win five majors; good enough to be on 12 Ryder Cup teams; good enough earlier this year at age 47 to win a tournament, the WGC in Mexico; good enough to be three shots behind Brandt Snedeker’s 131 after 36 holes in this Safeway.

Phil the Thrill. “The real boss of the (winning 2016) Ryder Cup team,” tweeted Ted Bishop, former president of the PGA of America. “Phil presided over the press conference like a hawk surveying his prey.”

A father so interested in his kids in 2017 he skipped the U.S. Open, the only major of the four he never won, finishing runner-up six times, to attend the graduation of his eldest daughter Amanda from her San Diego-area high school.

A man who paid off a gambling debt with $1 million earned on an illegal insider tip, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, but according to his attorneys was not charged and was innocent of any wrongdoing — but agreed to repay the $1 million.

Mickelson was a star a few years in front of Tiger, and you wonder what Phil might have done had Woods not come along to win the tournaments and steal the attention. Not until the 2004 Masters did Mickelson, then 33, get that first major.

Now, he’s trying to get a second tournament in this calendar year but a first tournament of the 2018-19 Tour season, which starts with the Safeway. After flying from France and last week’s Ryder Cup, Mickelson isn’t sure what to make of his golf.

“Yeah, I don’t know what to say,” Phil observed. “I’m as surprised as anybody that I’m playing well. I’ve hit a lot of good shots. I’m not surprised I’m putting well. I’ve been putting well week in and week out.

“I’m just surprised I’m hitting this many good shots. I’m surprised I haven’t hit some huge drives off line. The ones that were in the rough are very solidly hit. But I’m surprised I haven’t hit any out of bounds, to be honest.”

It’s hard to smack one OB at Silverado, although a few fairways do border roads or residences. So Mickelson, who can be cocky, is giving us a bit of self-deprecation.

Not that Phil deserves to be criticized. He’s the only 2018 Ryder Cup player in the Safeway, and along with Fred Couples, Snedeker and two-time Safeway winner Brendan Steele he gives the event the recognizable names need to draw fans and Golf Channel viewers.

“I love what I do,” said Mickelson, “but now, as opposed to playing the tournaments you’re expected to play in, whatever, I’m going to play the events I like.”

One of those is a $9 million winner-take-all, pay-per-view match between Phil and Tiger over the Thanksgiving weekend.

“I probably won’t play much until then” said Mickelson. “You know at 48 it’s not a smart thing to do. It doesn’t come easy anymore.”

But as his play so far in the Safeway indicates, for Phil Mickelson it comes when needed.

7:42PM

Mickelson: From Ryder Cup pond to 6 straight birdies at the Safeway

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — So it’s back to the PGA Tour, the Safeway Open, where golf once again is a game of strokes and not words. And America’s failure in the Ryder Cup remains in that other wine country, France.

What surfaced again at the Safeway was Phil Mickelson’s game — or at least the most important part, putting.

Phil’s last shot at the Ryder Cup, six days ago, plunked into a pond and gave Europe the winning points. But Thursday, in the first round of the first tournament of the 2018-19 season, the Safeway at Silverado Country Club, Philly Mick birdied six straight holes, 9 through 14, and shot a 7-under 65.

He was two behind rookie Sepp Straka, who is making his first Tour start and shot a spectacular 63, one back of Chase Wright.

Mickelson, reminding us he’s 48 and not quite able to handle monster courses with narrow fairways and high, thick rough, as he encountered during the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National near Paris, was asked about the apparent bickering among American Ryder Cuppers.

Patrick Reed’s wife whined that he was blindsided by, presumably, U.S. captain Jim Furyk, when Reed was separated as a playing partner from Jordan Spieth, with whom he formed a winning pairing in the 2016 Cup.

Then, wham, another anonymous golfer said Reed was full of spit, or something, and the U.S. players were very much involved in the pairing decisions.

If that weren’t enough, then came a report that two of America’s literal big men, the 6-footers Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka — who together have won the last three U.S. Opens — had a punch-out. Fiction, Koepka insisted.

“I don’t know what to say,” Mickelson responded, “because I didn’t see any of that stuff happen. I only saw one of the best weeks and team unities that we’ve had in a long time.”

There’s an adage that you can learn more about a person in a single round of golf than in a month of dialogue. What we seemingly learned about some of the members of the U.S. team is they didn’t so much need a captain as a nursemaid.

“Well, we got outplayed,” a candid Mickelson said Thursday, discussing the result of his 12th Ryder Cup. “I thought we had a great week in the sense we worked really well together as a team in deciphering some things and over the course of 20 years we’re looking at this as a big-picture thing.

“We were 2-8 the last 20 years (the Ryder Cup is biennial). Our goal is take the wins and losses and build on them. We’re having the opportunity to build something special, and so we’ll be judged on how we do the next 20 years. Our goal is to go 8-2, but after losing this time that might not be possible.”

Anything’s possible in golf. Mickelson flew 11 hours to his San Diego-area home from France on Monday, rested, came north to Napa on Wednesday, hit the ball poorly in warm-ups Thursday and shot 34-30.

“I hit it terrible,” Mickelson said, “one of the worst warm-ups of the year. I was hitting the fence on the range. To the left, not straight ahead. But I’ve been putting well, like I can putt. The big thing is making the short ones. Don’t let the good round fool you.”

The real question is: were we fooled by the tales of disaffection among the U.S. Ryder Cuppers? Or is it that the Euros care more about winning the Cup, while the Americans care about winning the majors?

Fred Couples has done both, his major the 1992 Masters. He is 59 and playing the Champions Tour, but as a spectator attraction — Fred always has been one of the more popular golfers — he is entered in the Safeway, where Thursday he shot a 1-over 73.

“I wish they would just leave it alone,” Couples said about the Ryder Cup complaining. “We got smoked, give it a rest. You go down as a team. … Why did they (Europe) win? They played better. They’re not better friends or attached more. They just flat beat us.”

Fortunately, Justin Thomas, the son and grandson of pros, and the 2017 PGA Champion, had the proper approach after playing in his first Ryder Cup. “To the fans and people of France,” Thomas tweeted, “y’all were amazing. So loud, supportive and classy to both the Europeans and US team. They are what makes the @rydercup so special…”

Thanks, Justin.

 

2:20PM

Tiger, 0-4: ‘I’m one of the contributing factors why we lost the Ryder Cup’

By Art Spander

SANT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — It couldn’t have ended in a more appropriate fashion, a Phil Mickelson tee shot splashing into a pond, immediately followed by the European Ryder Cup team splashing Champagne to celebrate a victory that was inevitable.

Once more, an American team of stars — Phil and Tiger Woods, who didn’t score a measly point between them, and Dustin Johnson, a recent world’s No. 1, who at least did score a measly point — was beaten, make that overwhelmed, by Europe, this time 17½ to 10½.

You now can amend the adage; there’s nothing sure but death, taxes and an American defeat when the Ryder Cup is held on the far side of the Atlantic. This was the sixth straight time the Euros have won in Europe. Also the ninth time in 12 matches, wherever they have been played.

That the 48-year-old Mickelson, making a 12th and surely farewell Ryder appearance, didn’t score in two matches at Le Golf National near Paris — one of those the Sunday singles — could be excused.

But what about Tiger getting blanked in all four of his matches? Or Johnson picking up only a single point in four matches? And that wasn’t in singles, where Sunday he was whipped by Ian Poulter.

Tiger, Phil and Dustin combined for one point of a possible nine, which is unimpressive even if the 42-year-old Woods is exhausted from his win a week ago, even if Mickelson has been slumping as he is aging, and even if Johnson reportedly has domestic problems.

“I did not play well this year,” conceded Mickelson. “This could very well, realistically, be my last one.”

America basically lost the Cup it had won two years ago at Hazeltine near Minneapolis after three sessions this time, when Europe made history by taking all of Friday’s alternate shot foursomes and then Saturday morning taking three of the four fourballs (or better balls).

For those who want to dodge reality and find wonderful French pastry in this mess, the U.S. trailing 10-6 before the 12 Sunday singles briefly cut the margin to 10½-9½. Hey, Gert, here they come. No, sorry. There they go again.

“It’s disappointing because I went 0-4,” said Woods candidly, “and that’s four points to the European team. And I’m one of the contributing factors why we lost the Cup, and it’s not fun.

“It’s frustrating because when we came here I thought we were all playing pretty well. I just didn’t perform at the level that I had been playing and just got behind early in the matches and never got back.”

Whether or not he was worn out, Woods said, “Yeah, I mean, I played seven out of nine weeks ... So a lot of big events, and a lot of focus, a lot of energy goes into it. I was fortunate enough to have won one, and we were all coming here on a high and feeling great about our games, about what we were doing, and excited about playing this week.”

But as Mickelson and the team captain, Jim Furyk, agreed, they were outplayed.

Patrick Reed, “Captain America,” got back a bit. He won Sunday. So did three other Americans, Cup rookie Justin Thomas (who beat Rory McIlroy), Wade Simpson and cup rookie Tony Finau. That was it for the red-in-the-face, white and blue.

Jordan Spieth? Crushed, 5 and 4, by a Swede named Thorbjorn Olesen, who has three fewer major victories than Jordan but Sunday had a lot more birdies, seven compared to Spieth’s two.

“I had some in-between numbers,” said Spieth of his yardages to the greens, meaning he was unsure what club to use. “And I didn’t really pick the right shot, and I got in trouble. Chipping let me down. I had a couple opportunities to save par and stay even, dropped to two, three down, and then he out-putted me.”

This from a 25-year-old who is known as a brilliant putter.

Road games bring out the best — or worst. Every course has 18 holes, but on the European Ryder Cup courses those holes are surrounded by huge crowds chanting “Ole, ole, ole….oh-le” and rattling the American pros. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus never seemed to mind, but the new kids are bothered.

And Euro pros such as Olsen, Sergio Garcia and Poulter seem never to miss a putt in the Ryder Cup. The contention is the Euros bond better, but most of them, Poulter, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Henrik Stenson, play the U.S. PGA Tour. Besides, this isn’t basketball. You don’t pass a golf ball around. It’s an individual game, even when you have a partner.

“Let’s be honest,” said Mickelson. “The European side played some exquisite golf. I mean, it was some phenomenal golf, and they flat-out beat us.”

As they always do in Europe. Ole, ole, ole, ohh-le.

1:16PM

U.S. Ryder troubles: Phil sits out, Tiger shut out

By Art Spander

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — Phil Mickelson sat out. Tiger Woods was shut out. And so two days into the Ryder Cup, that biennial golfing dilemma, America seems headed for another wipeout.

Phil and Tiger are not entirely to blame for the U.S. falling behind the Europeans, 10-6 — Patrick Reed and Byron DeChambeau also haven’t provided anything but disappointment — but Mickelson and Woods presumably were going to show the young guys how to win. Wrong!

Mickelson and DeChambeau were crushed Friday in foursomes, alternate shot, and Saturday U.S. captain Jim Furyk benched Phil, who in effect then contributed as much to the U.S. score as Woods.

In his three matches, a four-ball Friday with Reed, another four-ball Saturday with Reed and a foursome Saturday with DeChambeau, Tiger didn’t get a point, Of course, Reed and DeChambeau, his partners, are as much a reason.

It’s an old story — and, for America, a sad one. When the Cup is held in Europe, the U.S doesn’t win. Or hasn’t won the last five times. And unless the kids from the U.S. of A. can perform better in Sunday’s 12 singles matches than they have in the team format, the number will increase to six in a row. And if you’re counting, nine of the last 11, home or away.

Europe needs only 4 1/2 points from the 12 singles — a draw gets a half-point, a win a full point — to take the Cup.

American golf just doesn’t travel well. Maybe it’s jet lag. Or the food. Or the clever manner in which the European Tour sets up the course, as it prepared Le Golf National, some 20 miles from Paris, for these matches — narrow fairways and thick rough.

Then again, golf gets down to who makes the putts and, wow, the Euro team of British Open champ Francesco Molinari and U.S. Open runner-up Tommy Fleetwood — “Moliwood,” someone nicknamed them — have been making putts from everywhere. Small wonder they have won all four of their matches, only the second team of same players to win each of its four.

“You have to make birdies,” said Tiger. A week ago he made them to win for the first time in five years, the Tour Championship. He, along with Mickelson and DeChambeau, already had been selected by Furyk as captain’s picks, wild card. And the choices seemed brilliant.

But instead of getting birdies, the Americans are giving explanations.

“The three matches we played,” said Woods about facing Molinari-Fleetwood over the two days, “they never missed a putt inside 12 feet. That’s hard to do. Playing against a team like that, you have to make a lot of birdies, and we didn’t.”

Overseas, the Americans never do. Or haven’t since their last Ryder Cup road victory, 1993.

The Euros seem to draw strength and confidence from the team format. Sergio Garcia couldn’t win a major until last year’s Masters, but he was a terror in the Ryder Cup, a reason this time Euro captain Thomas Bjorn picked him despite playing Garcia having a relatively poor year.

“Everything feels pretty good,” Woods said about his game. “Just really pissed off at the fact I lost three matches and didn’t feel like I played poorly. That’s the frustrating thing about match play. We can play well and nothing can happen.”

You know the gripe: There’s no defense in golf. You can’t do anything to stop an opponent from playing well — shouting on his backswing is not proper etiquette. You just have to play better than he does. The Euros play better than the Americans do. It’s that simple.

“We need every single man on the course to do their bit,” said Bjorn, the Euro captain. “When you look at those 12 American names, that’s a strong lineup.”

Strength isn’t the issue at a Ryder Cup in Europe. Accuracy is required, finesse is required and most importantly a great putting touch is required. Getting to the green is a small factor. Getting into the cup is a big factor.  

Americans Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, both major champions, paired to win both fourballs and foursomes.

“It was great,” said Thomas. “We went out and did what we needed to do in both sessions, not just hit the shots when we needed to but make the putts when we needed to.”

They did. Other American golfers did not.