Aug
8
2013
Thursday’s Top Five at the 2013 PGA Championship: The bald and the beautiful
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Championship
Thank you, thank you very much

Thank you, thank you very much

You know that hackneyed saying that once Joe Golfer breaks through to win a major, the floodgates will open? Well, I hate those kinds of platitudes, but I begrudgingly admit sometimes they’re appropriate. Phil Mickelson is one example that comes to mind, and Adam Scott is manifesting into the latest poster boy for this phenomenon.

Ever since Scott entered the pro ranks, the golfing world expected spectacular things from the Australian right from the get-go. He was dubbed “next Tiger Woods,” but when that didn’t transpire right away, he was still always too good, too talented to *not* win multiple major championships. Well, the 32-year-old Austalian — who had come close on several occasions in the last decade, with the most noteworthy being at the 2012 Open Championship — finally succeeded at the Masters in April.

Scott contended again at last month’s Open Championship, but stumbled on the back nine in the final round. Still, he was in the mix and ended up finishing T3, which was more than respectable.

With the PGA Championship, the final major of the season upon us, it’s no surprise he’s right up there again, posting a five-under 65 to share the first-round lead with Jim Furyk.

“I think I did a pretty good job of it,” said Scott when asked about his preparation for majors. “I think the results are showing that I have got something figured out.  I don’t know if you ever have it all figured out.  I like what I’m doing, so I am just going to keep doing it.”

With the overnight rain and softer conditions at Oak Hill, Scott didn’t waste any time making the most of the scoring opportunities, rolling off five birdies in a row on nos. 4 to 8.

“Probably the best run I’ve ever had and I just hit really nice shots and didn’t leave myself too much work,” said Scott. “You have to take advantage of that if you are feeling that and I was through the turn there.  It was a dream start after kind of a nervous first couple of holes.”

Unfortunately, Scott’s momentum was slightly thwarted when play was suspended at 4:24pm due to inclement weather.

“I was hot when the rain came,” said Scott, who was on the 11th tee at the time. “And to go back out and have 234, par-3 with your first shot is a little tough.  I pulled it.  And then just had to go and do the whole settling down thing again like teeing off at the first.  Was scrambling and not quite in the same rhythm as I was in.  I was going along nicely, I still felt.  It’s all ways tough with a rain delay like that when you’re playing really well.”

His lone bogey came on the 16th when he three-putted from about 20 feet, but no big deal — how he finished the round was much more crucial. Scott closed similar to how he started — after missing the fairway (and green) on 18, he scrambled and rolled in a massive 12-footer to save par, which was important to help carry over the momentum and confidence into the second round.

“After playing so well, I was starting to feel it slip coming in on the last three holes,” he said. “And then to make one on 18 and get something out of the round that I felt could have been special was a nice feeling.  I did play very well today and it’s always nice to have 65 to show for that.”

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Meanwhile, British Open champ Phil Mickelson, who played alongside Scott and U.S. Open champ Justin Rose, made a mess of the last hole. After an errant drive into the left woods, his first attempt to punch out was unsuccessful — he hit a tree about 15 yards in front of his original position, so he was still in the woods. Which was so Phil being Phil.

“Well, I would have to go backwards to get to the fairway,” he explained after his range session. “I couldn’t go straight outside.  I couldn’t go forward.  So I had to pitch out backwards, which would have left me on a downhill lie with a 4-iron.  So I thought, (making a) 5 was going to be tough and 6 was going to be in play.

“I was trying to get a 9-iron through the little gap so I would have a 100-yard shot left, and it hit a tree.  I was fighting for five from the start, and I ended up making a six.  So it’s not like I lost too much.”

I’m not the Open Champion golfer of the year, but I was standing right there, so I saw what kind of shot he had — or rather, lack thereof — and I can’t believe he tried to hit a club with that much loft… but, he’s Phil Mickelson and he obviously has better control of his ball flight… Still… even if he kept it low enough, it would have probably gotten caught in the thick rough.

Oh well, anyway, this is why we love Phil (and I probably would haven’t attempted the same boneheaded shot) — he’s never scared to have his heartbroken.

Mickelson had an up-and-down kind of day. He knocked one out-of-bounds on no. 4 and walked off with a double-bogey. Then, he rallied with four birdies to get back under-par for the round, but gave two back with his boo-boo on the 18th.

“I just fought hard,” said Mickelson, who shot one-over 71. “Even when I was making birdies, it didn’t feel good.  I was just trying to fight and keep it in play.  I hit some good tee shots, but it didn’t feel great and it’s starting to feel a little bit better now.  We’ll see how tomorrow goes.  Tomorrow will be the big day for me.

After signing his scorecard, Phil bypassed press requests (but promised to do them after and kept his word) and went — or rather, ran — straight to the range to work out his swing with his coach Butch Harmon.

“It’s rare,” said Phil, referring to his post-round range session. “I don’t do it very often.  I usually like to be ready, know what I’m working on.  And the first four holes was like a shock to my system hitting it out-of-bounds on 4.  Out-of-bounds is not even in play, hit that so far right.  And to make a double on a par 5, that’s the only one we can get to that’s a birdie hole, was awful.”

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*Jim Furyk: If you watched my webcast with John Maginnes last night, then perhaps you added Jim Furyk to your pool/fantasy golf team/betting slip (go to the 23 minute, 30 second mark). He basically said the same thing the night before the U.S. Open and I did indeed take Furyk, and unfortunately, that didn’t work out very well, so I was reluctant to this time around (scar tissue). And yes, THE TOURNAMENT ISN’T WON ON THURSDAY, but nice start by Furyk, who has struggled a bit this season, missing the cut at the U.S. Open and the Open Championship.

“I felt like I played a couple good events in there from the Masters to the British, but never really strung four rounds together, or always had a lapse in the middle of the day that maybe ruined a round, but I did play some decent events in there,” said the 2003 U.S. Open champ. “Also, missing the cut poorly at the U.S. Open and missing the cut poorly in the British Open are probably the thorns in my side.”

In his last two starts, Furyk’s game started coming around, finishing T9 at both the RBC Canadian Open and the WGC-Bridgestone.

“I felt like I’ve done a lot of work, both with the driver and the putter,” he said. “You know, basically two of the three most important components of playing well, and usually two strengths of my game, so I worked real hard at Canada and last week on kind of fixing those problems, and feel very comfortable with what I’m doing with my driver right now.

“I’ve been doing some work on the putting, as well, and today was probably one of the best putting rounds, if not the best putting round I’ve had this year.”

*Lee Westwood: Surprise, surprise, Westy is in the mix at a major again! After holding the 54-hole lead at the Open Championship, Lee Westwood wasn’t able to finish it off on Sunday and came just short… again, finishing T3.

In the past five years, Westwood has 11 top-10s at the majors, which is an incredibly impressive record, but when you’ve come close so many times and walked away empty-ended all those times, it’s gotta be frustrating.

“You try and base your year around the major championships,” said Westwood, who shot a solid four-under 66. “So it’s nice to play well when you’re coming into it.

After the Open, you know, I could have looked upon it as disappointing, but as a golfer you try to take the positives out of it and carry on.  I think there was a bit of a backlash at last week’s tournament, the World Golf Championship.  I struggled to get into it.  I managed to get focused again this week and I felt very calm out there and in control.”

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE PRESSURE OF BEING THE GUY WHO’S ALWAYS CONTENDING AT MAJORS YET NEVER WINNING???

“Yeah, I mean, somebody was asking me the other day and, you know, does it get you down and do you get stressed when people go on about not winning a major championship,” he said.  I said, no, you really don’t get stressed about golf anymore.  I played golf for 20 odd years out here on the best courses in the world and I get up every day and go and do something that I love.

“Golf doesn’t stress me or disappoint me very often anymore.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time it did.  Just get on with it and just realize how lucky you are.”

Here’s hoping his time will come soon — if not this week.

*Rory McIlroy: On Thursday at Oak Hill, the defending champ had moments where he was the Rory McIlroy who blew the field away at Kiawah by eight shots. Progress!

Rory got off to a fast start, birdieing three of his first four holes and making the turn at three-under. Then, he opened the back nine with back-to-back bogeys, halting the momentum he had on the front.

He was saved by the horn, though. The weather delay allowed him to regroup and he came back to birdie no. 12.

“Overall it was good,” said McIlroy, who shot one-under 69. “I mean, to shoot under par today was a solid way to get off to any major.”

While he may have left a few shots out there, he was pleased with the way he played and seemed to have a little more bounce to a step, like the Rory who won the PGA last year.

“Today was definitely positive,” he said. “I felt like I played really, really well. I didn’t play so well coming in, but I thought for the first few holes it was really good.

“And consistency day-to-day or hole to hole, you know, focus on each and every shot and try not to think ahead too much or think about anything else and really just focus on my shot.  That is what I’m trying to do.”

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Oh, yeah, don’t forget, Tiger Woods shot 71 and no one can catch him. 

(AP Photo)