Feds dog Lefty
Phil Mickelson was nowhere near the winner’s circle when Hideki Matsuyama entered it after earning his first PGA Tour victory in a wild and wacky finish to last week’s Memorial Tournament. But even with the 22-year-old’s first step toward "megastar"-dom, as CBS analyst Nick Faldo predicted for Matsuyama, it was the five-time major champion about whom everyone at Muirfield Village and beyond was talking.
For sure, Lefty being shadowed by FBI agents on Thursday at Jack Nicklaus’ place and perhaps as long ago as last year overshadowed Bubba Watson’s meltdown down the stretch on Sunday, world No. 1 Adam Scott drowning his chances for a second consecutive PGA Tour title with a water ball off the par-3 12th tee, and put Rory McIlroy’s personal issues and second-round blowup (a 78 following his 63) in the rear-view mirror.
Having the Feds on his tail must certainly be a distraction, despite Lefty’s ever-sunny outlook and lip service to the contrary, and may well be having an impact on his day job.
"I think that as a player, you have to be able to block out whatever is going on off the golf course and be able to focus on the golf course," Mickelson told reporters on Saturday after carding an even-par 72. "And it's not going to change the way I carry myself. Honestly, I've done nothing wrong. I'm not going to walk around any other way."
Whether it’s allegations of insider trading and the potential fallout from his financial services sponsors, his psoriatic arthritis, a back injury he incurred in Abu Dhabi in January, an aging body, or a plain old slump, Mickelson’s lackluster on-course performances do not bode well for his chances, in two weeks, of capturing his first U.S. Open victory.
In the midst of the worst season in 22 years as a professional, Mickelson has three missed cuts (including from his favorite event, the Masters), two withdrawals, and no top-10 finishes in 16 starts in the 2013-2014 season. The last stat marks the longest he’s gone without one to begin a year, but that’s not getting Phil down.
"From a golf standpoint, it wasn't a bad week, as far as I started to hit the ball well," he said after a final-round 73 put him in a tie for 49th at 1-under -- 12 behind co-leaders Matsuyama and Kevin Na. "I started working the ball a lot more with some iron shots. I had, I thought, a successful week as far as a good stepping stone."
He’ll tee it up starting Thursday in Memphis as is his habit to play competitively the week ahead of a major.
"Next week is when I have to put it together and play well," he said of his final tuneup prior to Pinehurst. "If I can play well, get in contention, it will give me some momentum for the Open. That's what I need to do."
Big mo for Matsuyama
A 10-foot par putt on the 73rd hole to win his maiden tour event cemented Maysuyama's come-from behind W and made him an instant favorite to do some damage at Pinehurst. His win gave Matsuyama his first triumph in 26 tour starts and made him the first Japanese-born player under 30 to win on tour.
In addition, according to Golf Channel, he was the first contestant ever to post birdies on the 18th hole in all four rounds in regulation at Muirfield Village, as well as the first to win in his first Memorial event since Roger Maltbie won the inaugural contest in 1976. He did so by grabbing a share of the top with 54-hole leader Watson by the eight hole and made the turn in 4-under 32, even as he, Watson, and Scott unraveled down the stretch.
Scott’s chances ended with an embedded ball in the hazard and a double-bogey on the 12th and Bubba coughed up his fifth 54-hole lead at the Memorial with a drive that landed way off the property on 15. In fact, Watson set a dubious personal record of never breaking par at Jack’s Place on Sunday.
Matsuyama’s own dunk into the pond on 16 led to a double but he got away with it thanks to the breakdowns of his primary challengers and Na’s rustiness after cruising into the clubhouse with a final-round 64 and having to wait for his playoff partner to finish. Na’s yank left into a creek off the tee on the first extra frame ended his opportunity to secure his second tour win, despite Matsuyama’s finding a fairway bunker with a 3-wood off the tee and clipping a spectator with a wayward stroke from the sand.
Rory’s still odds-on favorite to win at Pinehurst
McIlroy began his roller-coast week nearly in tears discussing his breakup with former fiancee Caroline Wozniacki. Then he went right out on Thursday and tore up the course with a 63, hobbled in from his first round with a sore knee and bad back, put up an ugly 78 on Friday, and finished at 6-under and in a tie for 15th.
Despite ending up four shots behind Scott’s T4, Rory remains the oddsmakers’ choice (8/1 at Bovada over Scott’s 11/1) to win his second U.S. Open and third major when the boys start the first of back-to-back Opens at Pinehurst a week from Thursday.
"I didn't want to shoot two bad rounds in a row," McIlroy said after Saturday’s 69. "So I was happy to shoot something in the 60s today and try and do something a little better tomorrow again."
He pronounced his knee OK.
"It’s not 100 percent, but it’s better than it was on Thursday," McIlroy said. "So it’s a good positive sign."
Stacy Lewis reclaims No. 1 ranking
On the LPGA Tour, Stacy Lewis staked her claim once again to the top ranking, finishing the ShopRite LPGA Classic on Sunday with a 4-under 67, a six-shot victory over Christina Kim, and ending Inbee Park’s 59-week run as the best player in women's golf.
Lewis, who notched her second tour win of the season and 10th of her career, enjoyed the top ranking for four weeks last year and was extremely pleased to be back.
"It feels great,'' Lewis told reporters after finishing 16-under for the week on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and golf Club in Galloway Township, N.J. ''I feel like I've played a lot of good, consistent golf over the last year and I felt like I deserve to be here. I didn't feel like I stumbled into it.''
Park sounded a bit like Yani Tseng, who was No. 1 for what seemed an eternity but eventually could not handle the pressure of reigning supreme.
"It is a little bit of a relief not to have the big heavy crown on my head," Park, who won three straight major championships during a totally dominant 2013, told the Associated Press after finishing T8 at 7-under -- nine shots back of Lewis’ winning score. "It’s not the end of the world."
For Kim, continuing a comeback from physical and emotional issues, it was her best outcome since 2010. Despite three straight birdies to make the turn on Sunday, she went 3-over on the final seven holes, including a double-bogey at 18.
"I hadn't been in contention in a while so I kind of forgot what it was like having nerves,'' Kim said. ''And it kind of showed on the last hole."
Lewis, for her part, noted the burden of being the best player in the game but said this time around she would be better prepared to deal with it.
"The last time it was taken away from me in an off-week when we weren't even playing, so I'm definitely just not going to take it for granted and really enjoy it this time," she said. "Now I know all the extra things that come along with it. But I'm ready for it this time."