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Howell takes it at Riviera; Church of Woods

Good for Charles Howell. After years of close calls, he finally pulls out a win. But much of the talk in the articles on the Nissan involved Phil Mickelson, focusing on how he couldn’t seal the deal after looking in control and with a two shot lead heading into the back nine.

Phil, of course, threw up on himself. But unlike a lot of pundits, I don’t think this had anything to do with the U.S. Open and 4-irons from under trees. Neither does Phil:

Coming off a five-shot victory at Pebble Beach where he tied a tournament scoring record, Mickelson was poised to get in the Riviera record books until he stumbled along the back nine. He missed a two-foot par putt on the 13th, then misplayed a four-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole to fall into a share of the lead.

Needing a par to win, he came up short on the 18th and hit a pedestrian chip to 18 feet and took bogey.

“I had the tournament in control,” Mickelson said. “It happens. It’s part of the game.”

Mickelson, though, was classy in defeat, while talking about Howell:

And with a check for $561,600. Mickelson praised Howell for playing “a great round of golf¦. I just think he’s starting to play to where we all know what his potential is.”

Howell now takes the lead in the FedEx Cup standing. With such a momentous move, you’d think that would have Mickelson concerned. But no — surprisingly he’s still focused on the majors!

“I had the tournament in control. I just needed to par the last hole,” Phil said. “If I birdie 16 and make that four-footer, I’m probably going to do it also. If I don’t miss that par putt on 13, a good chance I do it, also.

“So I will certainly look back and say that there were a lot of opportunities that I let slide. But on a good note, it’s better to get those out of the way early in the season and see if I can eliminate things for the upcoming majors.”

The LA Times story on Howell’s win is here.

By the way, did anyone pay much attention to the strangeness swirling around Mickelson all day Sunday? Facing a lengthy shot on the 9th green, he attempted to chip off instead of putting, and despite his legendary short game, he stubbed his 60 degree wedge in the turf and moved the ball about 10 feet. Though the announcers didn’t reference him, they indicated there were some TC Chen thoughts going through their heads. A couple of holes later, Mickelson clips a tree with his approach and though most balls would surely have ended up in a bad way, Mickelson’s finished in the middle of the green. So Lefty might have caught some bad breaks, but he certainly got some good ones as well.

As Orange County Register columnist Mark Whicker says:

No lead is safe from him. No deficit is, either. No putt is unmakeable. No putt is a gimme. He sees pitch shots that never were and says, “Why not?” He tries weirdo shots that make everyone else say, “Why bother?”

NASCAR would black-flag him. No bull would sit under him. And that’s why, from coast to coast, Mickelson is such gallery-candy. In a sport of such confined borders, he is possibility.

Does that make Phil the Mitch Williams of golf?

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I watched most of the final round on my PVR. I have this to say about pro golf on TV — too many commercials. Watch a shot, watch a car ad. Watch a putt, see a life insurance ad. I have no idea how anyone watches this stuff in real time anymore.
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Pairings for the Match Play this week are out. Weir takes on Casey, Woods takes on JJ Henry. Stephen “9 and 8” Ames gets Robert Karlsson. I doubt there will be any comments about his abilities with a driver.

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In a bit of an odd story choice, the LA Daily News turned to a church to ask about why Tiger Woods wasn’t in the field at Riviera this week. The religion of choice: the “Church of Tiger Woods.” Of course it isn’t as strange as one might immediately think — all the church proclaims is that “Tiger Woods is God.” And who am I to argue with that?

Turns out the church would like Tiger to play a bit more often, but like any good religion, is pragmatic and understanding:

John Ziegler, the self-anointed pastor of the largely fictitious “First Church of Tiger Woods,” will continue to ponder that as he watches today’s final round of the PGA Tour’s Nissan Open, trying to look at the big picture beyond his TV screen.

“The fact he chooses to blow off Los Angeles – the City of Angels, his hometown, the place where it all started for him – at first glance may not be evidence to indicate the existence of his divinity,” Ziegler offered from his Burbank sanctuary. “But this being a religion, it’s always possible to rationalize your way out of any convenient fact.”

The story is here.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Interestingly Tiger’s bracket at the Match Play has only four Americans out of 16 golfers as the number of highly ranked Americans seems to be dwindling. I bet NBC is really hoping that Tiger wins – a final between Henrik Stenson and Jeev Milka Singh would just decimate their ratings. Their dream final of Tiger vs. Phil isn’t on as they would play in the semis if all goes to plan.

  • RT….I guess Golf Channel isn’t the only TV network that needs commercials to keep the lights on eh?

    I wouldn’t rule out anything from Ames’s mouth.

    Any updated Clublink takeover rumors?

  • Match play is a bit of a fluke, in my opinion. Even the best player in the world will fall victim to a hot putter.

    I am predicting next week, the pundits will be reporting ‘Tiger’s stroke play streak is still alive even though he did not win the match play tournament’.

    Mr. T, I saw on TV some aerial shot of the golf course. It seems like a top notch golf course with 2 drive-able par 4 and 2 600+ yards par 5.

    On a side note, I imagine this week might be Mike Weir’s audition to be picked for the President Club. It is imperative that he at least go deep enough to impress the team captain.

  • Weir is going to have to move up a lot to be a Captain’s pick – he is currently at 21, Ames is at 20. If I was the Captain picking today I would choose Baddely and Michael Campbell. Shingo Katayama is #11 and would warrant a pick as well, but most of the guys in the 11-20 group have not done much in 07, Bads being the exception.

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