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By Bob Harig, ESPN Senior Writer
Phil Mickelson already has “baited” Tiger Woods into a $200,000 side bet as part of their winner-take-all $9 million match on Friday in Las Vegas.
During a news conference on Tuesday at Shadow Creek to promote “The Match” between the longtime rivals, Mickelson noted he’s been thinking about the side challenges that are to be part of the pay-per-view event.
“I feel like the first hole is a great hole for me,” Mickelson said. “And I believe — in fact I’m willing to risk $100,000 that says I birdie the first hole. So that’s how good I feel heading into this match.”
Mickelson made it clear to Woods that he didn’t have to accept, but the 14-time major champion said: “So you think you can make birdie on the first hole?”
“I know I’m going to make birdie on the first hole,” Mickelson said.
“Double it,” Woods responded.
And so there immediately will be something on the line Friday when 14-time major champion Woods and five-time major winner Mickelson step to the first tee at Shadow Creek, a 415-yard par 4.
Months in the making, the Tiger-Phil match is set to begin at 3 p.m. ET, with Woods favored — he’s -200 at the Westgate — to prevail but Mickelson relishing the opportunity to hold some bragging rights.
At times forced (they staged a boxing-like stare-down at the end before both broke up in laughter), the news conference was equal parts banter, hype and back-slapping, as the long-ago adversaries have become far friendlier in recent years.
Mickelson quipped that Woods, 42, is six years younger than him, “even though he doesn’t look it,” and then went on to summarize their careers.
“He came along and broke every single record I had,” Mickelson said. “Junior records, college, U.S. amateur: I won one, he won three. At Shadow Creek, I shot the course-record 61. A couple of years later, you shoot 60.
“But Friday you’ve got to do it simultaneously. You can’t come along and do it later. It’s my chance after losing so many tournaments to you, so many majors, to get something back.”
Mickelson was far more into the huckster mode, explaining that The Match has motivated him throughout a time when he would generally have put the clubs away.
“This is a unique opportunity to do something that I’ve had a hard time doing, which is to get a leg up on Tiger even if it’s just one day,” Mickelson said. “It’s great to win the $9 million, but I just don’t want to lose to him. The bragging rights are the thing. I want to be able to rub it in; I don’t want it to be rubbed in. I want to sit in the champions locker room at Augusta [National, home of the Masters] and talk smack.”
Sensing where Woods might go, Mickelson pointed out that there have been some moments for him, including the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where Mickelson shot a final-round 64 while paired with Woods, who shot 75. Mickelson won his 41st PGA Tour event at the time.
“I know you’re going to bring up the big picture [overall wins],” Mickelson said to Woods. “I have to pick my spots. I have to be careful. Friday is my chance to have some fun.”
Woods capped a successful season in September by winning the Tour Championship, his 80th PGA Tour title that was the culmination of a surprising comeback season after 2017 spinal fusion surgery. He is now ranked 13th in the world after starting the year at 656th.
Mickelson, who won the Mexico Championship in March for his first win in five years, is 27th in the world after beginning the year at 37th.
Woods said he “shut it down for three or four weeks” following the Ryder Cup before resuming golf activity. “I’ve been getting back practicing and playing and grinding and playing golf again,” he said. “It’s been fun. Gets my juices flowing again.”
The winner of the event will receive $9 million, with nothing going to the loser — although both players have partnered through their various representatives to stage the event, thus, in theory, profiting, and with hopes of it leading to similar exhibitions with other players.
The side bets are supposed to be from the players’ own funds, with those proceeds going to charity.
After they settled on the first-hole bet, Mickelson said: “Did you see how I baited him like that? Yes. $200 [thousand] says I birdie the first hole.”
Team USA is full to the gunwales with talent, but there’s something a little strange about how that talent is currently performing. It turns out, through a fluke of bad luck, that three of the biggest American stars from the last two Ryder Cups happen to be showing the worst form of anybody on the 2018 team. That presents a problem, and it’s a thorny one for U.S. captain Jim Furyk.
Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, and Jordan Spieth were three of the top five points-earners in the 2016 victory at Hazeltine, and three of the top four at Gleneagles two years earlier. Spieth and Reed weren’t around at Medinah in 2012, but Mickelson was, and he was once again one of the team’s stars, netting three points in a dynamic pairing with Keegan Bradley. It just so happens that as the Americans get ready to do battle in Paris, hoping to win their first Ryder Cup on foreign soil in 25 years, these three U.S. stalwarts are playing some pretty rough golf. Along with Bubba Watson, they are—without a doubt—slumping in a way that the other eight players are not.
U.S. captain Jim Furyk on the possible Tiger-Phil Ryder Cup pairing: ''I won't ever say it wouldn't happen, but it's probably not too likely" https://t.co/iGHb9EZuND
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 26, 2018
It had to be strange for Jim Furyk to see the bottom of the leaderboard at last weekend’s Tour Championship, where positions 28-30 in the 30-man field looked like this:
Patrick Reed: +9
Bubba Watson: +10
Phil Mickelson: +13
Spieth, whose troubles this year are well-chronicled, wasn’t even there—he’s made exactly one top ten since the Masters, and he didn’t qualify for the Tour Championship.
To add to the conundrum, Spieth and Reed are a famously strong pairing, having amassed a 4-1-2 record over the last two competitions. To break them up would be a dramatic, almost reactionary move, but keeping two ice-cold golfers together runs even greater risks. If they can’t re-discover their magic together, it’s like handing a free point to the Europeans.
As if the situation wasn’t tricky enough on its own, Thomas Bjorn made a very smart move by deciding to play four-ball in the Friday morning session. That means the alternate shot pairings will happen in the afternoon, and the last thing you want to do if you’re Jim Furyk is stick a struggling golfer out there in alternate shot, where he can’t be rescued by a hot partner and could potentially submarine an entire match.
This puts the stress squarely on Furyk’s shoulders. Assuming he’s trying to avoid playing his four coldest players in afternoon foursomes, it leaves two choices: He can either play Bubba, Phil, Spieth, and Reed in the morning, or sit them out for an entire day.
He can’t sit them for an entire day. It’s just not plausible, even if it’s arguably the smarter move on paper. As such, you can expect to see all four golfers on Friday morning. Judging by the Tuesday practice groups, Furyk may be planning to break up the band and have Spieth and Reed play with different partners—it may be that Spieth doesn’t want to play with him anymore, considering the “interesting” comments Reed has made this year, from the denied drop at Bay Hill (“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth”) to the trash talk at the WGC-Match Play (“my back still hurts” from carrying Spieth at the Ryder Cup), all of which preceded Reed beating a frustrated Spieth at that WGC. Or maybe they’re completely fine. In any case, it’s easy to imagine Furyk seeing the benefit in giving himself other options if the two aren’t playing well on Friday morning.
But those other options carry a price, and that’s where diplomacy comes in. Patrick Reed wants to play all five sessions. The last time Phil Mickelson had an issue with playing time, he instigated a full mutiny and threw his captain to the wolves. Jordan Spieth is an immensely popular figure, to both his teammates and fans, and any attempt by Furyk to sideline him comes with risks. Of the four, only Bubba Watson—not a very popular figure, relatively speaking—is easily cast aside. Davis Love III felt no compunction at leaving him off the team in 2016, and Furyk can bench him without worrying about the consequences. Bubba even showed at Hazeltine in his vice captain role that he can be a team player under adverse circumstances.
When it comes to the other three, Furyk’s job gets tough. How do you manage those extremely large personalities? How do you disappoint them, in service of winning, and not risk a PR nightmare inside and outside the team room?
The answer comes down to personal management, of course, and there’s no way for anyone besides Jim Furyk to know exactly what notes to sing. Yet it’s an incredibly vital part of his job.
Paul McGinley had a terrific system in Gleneagles, when he paired Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell with rookies Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson, respectively, and cast the veterans as sherpas whose role was to win foursomes points with their young charges. It worked, but it may not be the perfect model for Furyk, because Mickelson and Bubba are not playing well, and Bubba in particular is not well suited to being anyone’s guide. It looks like he might try out the shepherd strategy with Mickelson and Finau, but it would likely have to come in morning four-ball. The ideal situation is that they win, sit for the afternoon, and play again on Saturday morning, but that assumes that Finau doesn’t crack under the Ryder Cup pressure, and that Mickelson is happy with playing just one session per day.
As for Reed and Spieth, Furyk is mostly reduced to hoping for the best. If they struggle, he’ll have to deliver the bitter news and hope they’re both mature enough to accept an unlikely demotion.
Furyk is the rare golfer who thinks deeply about every question he’s asked, and brings a curious mind to his sport. Journalists love him, players respect him. He’ll be the same as captain, and you can bet he’ll have considered almost every angle on the course. His greatest challenge, though, will be managing expectations and personalities off the course, particularly when his team hits the inevitable patch of adversity. If he can’t prepare his struggling stars for the prospect of sitting out a crucial session—or perhaps an entire Saturday—he’s in trouble. He must discover how to make them accept his decisions with equanimity while remaining supportive of the team and staying inspired for Sunday singles. Otherwise, his exacting preparation will crumble around him.
There are extremely strong players on Team USA, and they need to be playing in the crucial moments. Identifying them is the easy part. Keeping everyone happy while making the tough choice is where the road gets rocky, and Furyk’s ability to solve this riddle could define the outcome of the Paris Ryder Cup.
Golf is like sex. Some people do it for years and never improve. But why? With input from GOLF Magazine Top 100 instructor Jon Tattersall, we’ve drawn up a list of the 11 reasons why you may not be getting better at life’s (second) most enjoyable pursuit.
1. You never practice
You know that whole 10 thousand hours thing? How it takes at least that long to master a skill? Do the math. Ten minutes once a month isn’t going to get you there.
2. You practice unproductively
Smacking drivers on the range until you’re blue in the face might give you a backache. But it’s not going to get you where you want to go. What you need to do is practice with a purpose. “Go to the range to get better at one thing, posture for example,” Tattersall says. “Once you’ve spent 30 minutes working on that and incorporating into your swing, leave the range.”
3. Your equipment isn’t optimized
“That includes your golf ball,” says Tattersall, who recommends getting your entire arsenal checked at least once a year.
4. You’ve got the wrong mix of clubs
News flash. You’ve got no business carrying a two-iron. You’re also probably not good enough to have more wedges than hybrids in your bag.
5. You don’t track your stats
You think you’re a great putter, and a middling driver. But are you really? Without knowing for sure, you can’t maximize your practice time, much less devise an optimal on-course strategy.
6. You’re not as good as you think you are
Two-twenty over water is not in your wheelhouse, but you always try it, because, well, your weakness is your fondness for the hero shot.
7. You’re too hard on yourself
On approach shots from 150 yards, the average Tour pro leave is 23 feet from the pin. But you somehow believe you should be knocking down the flagstick, so you berate yourself every time you don’t.
8. You ride a cart
You think you’re saving energy. What you’re really doing is losing touch with the natural rhythms of the game.
9. You think there’s a quick-fix
In a world filled with swing tips, you believe there’s a magic one that will solve all your problems. So you search, and search. You might as well be trying to track down Sasquatch, Tattersall says. “The tough news is it comes down to working on good principles long enough for them to become habits.”
10. You’re don’t hit it far enough
Sorry, but size matters. A good way to get better is to swing the club the faster to hit the ball longer. “Any good coach can correct crooked,” Tattersall says. “Getting the ball to go farther is a tougher task.”
11. You focus more on words than feel
You’ve gotten a lot of verbal instruction. But, Tattersall says, “Words don’t translate as well to performance.” Pay more attention to images and feels. It will free up your mind. And your swing.
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“Tiger’s coming!” was the shout of one golf fan directed to Brooks Koepka during Sunday’s final round at the U.S. PGA Championship.
Gentle baiting from the crowd, as well as several roars of delight from around the course after another Tiger Woods birdie, weren’t enough to deter Koepka from a third major title. But the signs are there that Woods is again a force to be reckoned with.
American Koepka, 28, withstood stifling pressure and sweltering heat in St Louis, Missouri, to card a four-under 66 good enough for a two-shot victory, and claim the trophy and the $1.98 million prize.
Woods played his part though in front of a huge gathering of supporters, in pursuit of his first major title in a decade — and came close by returning a 64, his lowest final round in a major ever.
Winning at Bellerive means Koepka has now won three of the last seven majors and becomes only the fifth golfer and first since Woods in 2000 to triumph at both the PGA and U.S. Open in the same year.
“Other than me, my team, everybody was rooting for Tiger,” Koepka said. “It kind of pushes you to step up your game.”
As Woods finished his round and had the clubhouse lead, he had a maximum value of 100, according to Google Trends. While at the same time, Koepka was languishing down at just 27. That’s despite holding a clear lead and playing his final few holes on the course.
The sense of apathy, combined with the love of a sporting comeback, isn’t of concern to Koepka, who accepts he won’t be able to please everyone and still had the support of his fellow professionals.
“I’ve heard some frustration that he hasn’t won a lot of other tournaments, but he’s won three majors now, so he’s definitely winning the right ones,” Adam Scott said. The Australian was playing alongside Koepka in the final group and finished three shots behind him.
More vocal support should come Koepka’s way next month when he takes part in the Ryder Cup as part of Team USA, after the top eight automatic picks heading to the event in Paris were confirmed.
By winning at Bellerive, Koepka finished top of the standings ahead of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson. Captain Jim Furyk will pick four others — three on September 3 and the final choice on September 9.
Woods, in finishing runner-up Sunday, jumped from 20th to 11th in the Ryder Cup standings, behind Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson.
It seems almost unthinkable that Furyk would leave out Woods given his form in the past two majors and his experience of seven previous Ryder Cups.
“I’m just pleased with what I’ve done so far, and now to be part of the Ryder Cup conversation, from where I’ve come to now, it’s been pretty cool,” 14-times major champion Woods said.
The wait continues for the Woods comeback to be completed with that elusive 15th major, but given his form so far in 2018, interest only looks set to increase.
ST. LOUIS — It produces a hodgepodge of winners. That’s the stigma associated with the PGA Championship. Compared to other majors’ ignominies—like the weather predicating who captures the claret jug or USGA officials unnecessarily intervening at the U.S. Open—the PGA’s alleged stain is relatively innocuous. But that belief is real, and Golf Digest’s own Brian Wacker set off a firestorm for reflecting that sentiment in a recent column, one that drew blowback from some past champions.
But is it fair? Or more importantly, correct? We know there are a host of names engraved on the Wanamaker Trophy that won’t sniff the Hall of Fame, yet every tournament boasts such a roll call. Which got us thinking: Which major—year in, year out—produces the “best” and “worst” winners?
For our investigation we used OWGR data from 2000 to 2017, giving each major 18 submissions for 72 winners total. Why 2000? That year Titleist’s Pro V1 and Nike’s solid-core Tour Accuracy golf balls were introduced, which from an equipment perspective is viewed as the parcel in how the game was played, and how it is today. Plus, manually charting this test became time-consuming, and 18 and 72 seemed apropos golf numbers.
Mentioned above, we pulled a player’s Official World Golf Ranking the week before their major triumph, giving us a snapshot of their stature in the game pre-victory. OWGR does have its critics, but it’s the best barometer available to illustrate this idea of a player’s standing.
So what does that equation reveal? This century, the Open Championship produces the “worst” winner, with an average OWGR rank of 42.55. The Masters has the highest average OWGR winner at 15.77, followed by the U.S. Open with a 21.83 mark and the PGA at 33.22.
That the Masters is decidedly lower than its major brethren is not a surprise. Only 85 to 90 players tee it up at Augusta National, a limited field compared to the competitions at the other three majors. The green jackets want to ensure a “name” entity join their ranks, and—judging by these numbers—that endeavor’s been a success.
However, there are outliers, so what happens if we subtract the highest OWGR winner from each tournament? Call this the Ben Curtis Corollary, because without his Cinderella story in the mix, the Open Championship jumps the PGA, 21.94 to 25.23. (The Masters remains the lowest at 12.65, the U.S. Open trailing at 18.41.)
There is another part to this equation. Chiefly, how often does a championship cater to the best in the world? Amazingly, the PGA Championship comes out on top, with nine of its last 18 winners—Tiger Woods three times, Rory McIlroy twice, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Jason Day—ranking inside the top five in the world. That’s three more than the Masters and the British, and four better than the U.S. Open.
Moreover, only five times has the PGA Championship winner been ranked outside the top 30 this century. That’s equal to the U.S. Open, with six British Open victors outside the top 30 (the Masters has just two such instances: Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrera).
Mentioned above, the OWGR data provides only a glimpse before a player’s win, failing to showcase what followed. For example, Justin Thomas enters Bellerive as the defending PGA champion, ranked No. 2 in the world. A ranking markedly better than his No. 14 standing the week before his Quail Hollow triumph. Conversely, every major battles this issue, which somewhat negates its wrath.
Still, the OWGR numbers give us an idea of the merit of each event’s winner. And, at least this century, the PGA more than meets the standards of a major champion.
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