Contenders looking to close
Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler all appear to be on the brink of victory
February 24, 2016
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- Phil Mickelson missed a 5-footer that would have forced a playoff at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Three weeks ago in Phoenix, Rickie Fowler lost an opportunity to win at TPC Scottsdale when he found the water at the 17th hole. Twice – once in regulation, the other in a playoff.
Two weeks ago at Pebble Beach, Phil Mickelson lost an opportunity when he missed a birdie putt from 5 feet on his final hole that would’ve forced a playoff.
Last week in Los Angeles, Rory McIlroy lost an opportunity to win in his first visit to Riviera when he made seven bogeys in his final 17 holes after briefly grabbing a share of the lead.
Those were heartbreaking finishes, but now they’ll get their chance to rebound at The Honda Classic this week.
McIlroy and Fowler are the two highest-ranked players in the field at PGA National. Mickelson is on equal footing when it comes to star power. It’s the start of the Florida Swing, and all three are in the field at what has become one of the biggest tournaments on the schedule.
Rory McIlroy news conference before The Honda Classic
Last week at Riviera, McIlroy, making his first start on the West Coast Swing, entered the final round just two strokes off the lead. He opened with an eagle to briefly grab a share of the top spot.
It was all downhill from there.
McIlroy’s seven bogeys over the final 17 holes were a career-high in a non-major round, as he shot 74 to tumble into a tie for 20th.
Afterward, he dwelled on what might have been, but not for long.
“I was 2 under early in the round to over par after 7,” he said. “So I felt from 7, I was chasing it. On that golf course, I made a decent par on 8. I had a good look on 9. And then I'm thinking, going on to the 10th tee, if I can make two birdies in these next two holes, get it back to 11 under for the tournament, I'm still right in there.
“Walking to 12 tee, instead of being 11 under, I'm 8 under and all I'm doing then is trying to go for pins and I started to short-side myself. The score probably got away from me because of that.”
There’s another positive for McIlroy. He arrives at a course in PGA National where he won four years ago to reach No. 1 in the world for the first time. He hasn’t played well here -- last year McIlroy missed the cut -- but with good performances each of the next two weeks he can get back to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.
“I want to get there as soon as I can and I feel like the next few weeks, there's opportunities to gain a lot of good World Ranking points and get up there,” he said. “Winning tournaments and playing well takes care of all that stuff.”
Phil Mickelson news conference before The Honda Classic
At the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Mickelson looked primed for his first victory since winning the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield.
He had a two-shot lead going into the last day, stumbled with back-to-back bogeys early in the round but still had a chance to force a playoff on the par-5 18th.
Mickelson’s 5-footer for birdie lipped out, though, and he finished a stroke behind Vaughn Taylor.
Still, the silver lining is that the 45-year-old is in the middle of his best start to a season in years with a second, tie for 11th and a third-place finish in three of his first four starts.
“I'm loving playing right now,” Mickelson said Wednesday. “I had a good couple of days after the ski trip with (coach) Andrew (Getson) Sunday and Monday to get my game ready and make sure it was back where I left off. I'm excited to get back out and play.
“Whether I won or lost the tournament, I was still using it as a steppingstone for the rest of the year for where my game has gone. It's gone through a difficult time for a couple of years. And the fact that I'm playing well again, I'm in contention, and I'm hitting shots with ease; I'm showing up at the golf course not trying to find something but continue refining what I'm already doing, it's a different feeling when I show up. Win, lose or what-have-you, it's not really affecting the confidence that I have or the direction that I feel like my game is going.”
Rickie Fowler on making golf fun before The Honda Classic
Fowler has been on a similar trend in 2016.
In four starts, Fowler has three finishes in the top 5 this year, which included a win in Abu Dhabi against a field that included McIlroy and current world No. 1 Jordan Spieth.
At the Waste Management Phoenix Open, he had a chance to add another. Leading by two with two holes to play, Fowler nuked a driver on the reachable par-4 17th, the ball ran through the green and into the water. He eventually lost in a playoff when he found the drink again on the same hole.
Afterward, the 27-year-old broke down in tears. A few weeks later he has a brighter outlook.
“It's obviously one that I wanted to get,” he said. “Felt like I was in a great position to get it, but I've been playing well, all through last summer, through the fall.
“Just really focusing on this week and see if we can get off to a good, solid start. This is a tougher course that we play. You have to be pretty precise from tee-to-green, and so the biggest thing is focusing on this.”
It’s a glass half-full approach. Maybe a win for one of them will come as soon as this week.
As Mickelson said on Wednesday about his own chances, “I know it's a matter of time.”