Much like he did last summer, Francesco Molinari snuck up on everybody on Sunday at Bay Hill. Trailing by five strokes entering the final round, the reigning Open Champion shot an eight-under 64 to capture the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his third career PGA Tour title, all of which have come in his last 12 starts.
Molinari, who teed off 10 groups ahead of the leaders, got off to a hot start, making three birdies and no bogeys on his first seven holes. Just as it looked like he’d cool off at the par-4 eighth, where he badly missed the green with his approach, Molinari played a deft chip that found the bottom of the cup for another birdie. He made four more on the back nine, including a 43-foot bomb at the 72nd hole that wound up ultimately giving him a two-stroke win over Matthew Fitzpatrick, who shot a final-round 71.
“I don’t know, I’m just super glad,” said a shocked Molinari, who just put new clubs in the bag this week. “First week as a Callaway player, so happy to see that the switch I made wasn’t as crazy as some people thought. The clubs are good for me and I showed it this week.
“It’s great, to do it here, to get it done here at this place knowing that my wife and the kids were watching back home, it’s just a special, special one.”
By far the best club in the bag was Molinari’s putter, which he used to hole 146 feet of putts on Sunday, the most in his career. The 36-year-old from Italy called it his “best putting round ever,” a bold statement with the way putted on Sunday at Carnoustie to win his first major. While Arnie’s event isn’t a major, it felt just as good as one for Molinari.
“Incredible, it’s high up there with the best wins I’ve had. He [Arnold Palmer] was a special player but most of all a special person and a global icon for the game. For someone like me coming from Italy, he and Jack [Nicklaus] were up there as gods, so to win here is truly special.”
Fitzpatrick wasn’t able to close out his first PGA Tour victory, but he did finish alone in second. Sungjae Im, Tommy Fleetwood and Rafa Cabrera Bello tied for third. As for Rory McIlroy, it was another final-round dud. The Northern Irishman shot an even-par 72 to finish in a tied for sixth.
Golf fans and media alike had a lot to say about the early leader board this week at the Honda Classic. Most of the complaints were because of the lack of star power, which was to be expected with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and others skipping the event with Bay Hill and the Players lurking on the schedule. Naturally, the final round of the Honda proved to be the most exciting Sunday of the year.
Most of the excitement was due to Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka getting into a tie at eight under in the clubhouse, with Vijay Singh and Wyndham Clark still in reach out on the course. But it was Keith Mitchell, a 27-year-old playing in just his second full season on the PGA Tour, who wound up claiming his first career victory. The University of Georgia alum carded a three-under 67 that featured birdies on four of his final seven holes, including a 15-foot conversion at the 72nd hole, yielding a fiery fist pump.
“Everybody dreams about having that putt on the 18th hole to win a tournament,” Mitchell said afterwards, adding, “and I had it today, and fortunately I was able to capitalize, and it feels awesome.”
Had Mitchell’s putt not dropped, he would have been in a three-way playoff with Koepka and Fowler, two players with their fair share of victories. But Mitchell spoiled the party, impressively bouncing back after a poor drive at the par-5 18th that found a fairway bunker. He was forced to lay up, and then hit a 129-yard wedge shot 15 feet below the hole and buried the putt.
“It was awesome. I wish I could come up with a better word than that,” said Mitchell. “But just having a chance to play — coming down the stretch against Rickie Fowler and Brooks, those guys are the best in the world, and they’ve been out here proving themselves. I’m just pleased that I could prove myself against guys like that in such a great field and a great tournament, the Honda Classic.”
Prior to this week Mitchell had four career top 10s (all coming last year), including a solo second at the 2018 Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. He showed plenty of potential as a rookie, reaching the third leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but has struggled a bit in his sophomore season. Safe to say he’s had a successful year now, as this victory will give him nearly $1.5 million in total earnings in just 10 starts, almost eclipsing his total earnings all of last season.
Singh’s effort in pulling off the unthinkable was a valiant one, and on the 17th tee he still had a legitimate chance to win the golf tournament. But the 56-year-old badly hit his tee shot left and short of the green, and it bounced back into the water. He finished with an even-par 70, which earned him a solo sixth finish. Ryan Palmer and Lucas Glover finished one stroke ahead of Singh, tying for fourth.
As expected, Tiger Woods will not play in all of the PGA Tour’s upcoming Florida Swing events. Shortly before his opening round on Thursday at the WGC-Mexico Championship, Woods announced he would be skipping next week’s Honda Classic, while officially adding the following two weeks’ events, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players, to his schedule.
The decision to not play the Honda Classic is a bit of a surprise when you factor in the proximity of PGA National to Woods’ home in Jupiter, Fla. However, having already played at last week’s Genesis Open, an event that benefits Woods’ foundation, adding Honda to these other events would have meant Woods playing at least five consecutive weeks. Also, Woods’ record at Bay Hill, where he’s won eight times, was certainly a factor. Tiger has never won in four starts as a pro at the Honda.
Following his comeback campaign in 2018, an “exhausted” Woods said he planned on playing a more limited schedule. Not too surprising considering he’s a 43-year-old golfer with a fused back.
Woods didn’t specify if he would play in the Valspar Championship, which is the week following the Players. However, it seems unlikely he would play at Innisbrook despite nearly winning in his debut there last year because with the WGC-Match Play the following week, that would likely mean four consecutive starts.
Woods isn’t the first high-profile player to struggle with making his schedule under the new, more compact slate that features the Players back in March from May and the PGA Championship moved up to May from August. Phil Mickelson didn’t play in his hometown event at Torrey Pines for the first time in 29 years and recently hinted he might not tee it up at the Players, the PGA Tour’s flagship event.
Woods, who is coming off a T-15 at Riviera in his second start of 2019, is playing alongside Bryson DeChambeau and Abraham Ancer in the first two rounds of the WGC-Mexico Championship beginning Thursday. Although, technically, he’s a seven-time winner of the event, it’s the first time he’s playing competitively in Mexico.
By Brian Wacker
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Two days after playing 30 holes, Tiger Woods went another 28 on Sunday at Riviera Country Club. It proved a cold reminder that he is, after all, a fused-together 43 years old.
“Yeah, I got tired,” Woods said following a final-round one-over 72 to end his week at the Genesis Open at six under and tied for 15th. “I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I definitely felt it.”
He wasn’t. But Tiger was the only one playing to have undergone four back surgeries. Still, for a while he put on a show.
Woods’ day began at 6:45 a.m.—or at 1:30 a.m., the time he said he woke up to get ready for the resumption of the third round. And after getting up and down from just short of the green to save par at the 17th when play resumed, he added an eagle at the par-5 first for his second eagle of the round.
It brought him within five of the lead with a lot of golf still to be played as he closed out a third-round 65.
Teeing off in the final round 40 minutes later, he kept the momentum going with three birdies in his first seven holes on Riviera’s back nine to climb into a tie for fifth.
The bad news was that he was still eight strokes off the lead. The worse news was that he followed with four bogeys in a six-hole span to quickly fade.
It didn’t help any that the temperature dipped and the wind picked up throughout the afternoon, making the course as difficult as it had played the entire week.
Neither did some of the places Woods hit it. Or how he putted it.
On the par-4 second, Woods badly pulled his second shot from the right rough, going long and left of the green and leaving an awkward shot from a downhill lie that he wasn’t able to get up and down from.
Then came a long three-putt from 60 feet on the third and another from 30 feet on the fifth. Sayonara.
Woods called this one of the worst putting weeks he has had, which was true given he had round that included four three-putts (his opening round), and just 50 feet, 6 inches of putts made in the final round.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” Woods said. “Those clubs aren’t coming out of the travel case.”
It won’t be long, though. Woods will head to Mexico City on Monday for next week’s WGC-Mexico Championship and his third start of the year.
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — With plenty of sunlight and no drama, Phil Mickelson finished off a 7-under 65 to win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Monday and match the tournament record with his fifth victory.
Mickelson had a three-shot lead over Paul Casey with two holes to play when it was too dark to finish Sunday night — no matter how hard Mickelson lobbied to keep going — because of delays from rain and a hailstorm.
Casey’s only hope was for Mickelson to make a mistake on the closing holes, and there was little chance of that.
Mickelson was at his best on a course he loves. He drilled a 7-iron into 8 feet on the par-3 17th and made par, and then played conservatively up the par-5 18th and finished with a 6-foot birdie for a three-shot victory.
He matched the low score of the final round while playing in the last group, turning a three-shot deficit into a three-shot victory. Mickelson never came close to making bogey and won for the 44th time on the PGA Tour.
He finished at 19-under 268 and joined Tiger Woods as the only players to surpass $90 million in earnings.
Casey finished with a birdie that was worth $152,000 because he wound up alone in second place. He also won the pro-am with Don Colleran, the chief sales officer for FedEx.
Even so, it was the fourth time Casey took a 54-hole lead of at least two shots into the final round on the PGA Tour and failed to win. There wasn’t much he could do to stop Mickelson, who at age 48 looks just as tough as when he won his first PGA Tour event in 1991 when he was still at Arizona State.
Mickelson tied Mark O’Meara‘s record with his fifth victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach, the first one also a Monday finish in 1998 because of bad weather, with one big difference — that Monday finish was more than six months later in August.
Mickelson argued that he could “see just fine” on Sunday evening, moments after sunset with two holes remaining. Casey said there was no way to finish and they had to return Monday morning.
Mickelson, seen shaking his head when the horn sounded Sunday night, said he thanked Casey on Monday morning for holding his ground because it was fair to both of them.
“Sometimes I get in my own bubble,” Mickelson said.
Scott Stallings finished Sunday night with a 66 to finish alone in third.
Mickelson won on American soil for the first time since the Phoenix Open in 2013. He won that summer’s British Open at Muirfield and last year’s Mexico Championship.
He will return to Pebble Beach in June for the U.S. Open, where he made his pro debut in 1992. The U.S. Open remains the final piece missing for him to complete the career Grand Slam, though Lefty was quick to caution that this week had no bearing on this summer.
Pebble Beach was so soft that balls were plugging in the fairway when they landed. And while the fairway lines already have been brought in to be much narrower than usual, the rough was light.
“It’s nothing like the course we’ll see,” Mickelson said. “I’ll deal with that in six months.”
For now, he was glowing over another victory that keeps him as relevant as ever. Along with five titles at Pebble Beach, he ties Woods and Billy Casper — all three native Californians — with his 14th career victory in the Golden State.
By Josh Dawsey
West Palm Beach, Fla. — President Trump golfed with professionals Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus on Saturday, ending the longest stretch of his presidency without a round at one of his courses.
The White House is usually reluctant to confirm the president is golfing. But on Saturday, aides alerted reporters that Trump was at his course in Jupiter, Fla., with Nicklaus and Woods. They even ushered journalists inside the club for a peek.
The president later shared a photo of the trio on social media, and a Trump Organization official bragged about the matchup, noting that Woods and Nicklaus design courses for the company.
Trump has spent more than 150 days at his golf courses since becoming president, playing significantly more than his predecessors, whom he had mocked for golfing too much. Aides used to worry about how much time Trump spent playing but have largely accepted it. They say the president is calmest when he’s on the greens.
He is a talented player by many accounts, usually breaking 80, though he sometimes takes mulligans. Par for most courses is 70 or 72 shots.
“The first nine holes I played with him, he shot even par,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in a 2018 interview. “He beat me like a drum.”
Taylor Funk, son of golfer Fred Funk, said the president shot in the upper 70s when he played with him. “He hit a lot of great shots,” Funk said. “Flop shots and putts, up and downs. He kept up with me and my dad.”
Trump is speedy too, often finishing 18 holes in three hours by playing through other groups and driving on the edge of the green — a no-no, except perhaps when one owns the course. He is surrounded by a Secret Service detail, which expedites his movement. (A round takes between four and five hours for most golfers.)
The Washington Post reported in 2015 that playing partners said Trump often cheats. “When it comes to cheating, he’s an 11 on a scale of one to 10,” sportswriter Rick Reilly said in that story.
The president has denied this.
He usually wears a “USA” hat and often orders two chili dogs after nine holes, playing partners say. He likes to quiz fellow golfers about current events. He’s complained about the Mueller probe and regaled partners with stories of his life as a single man in New York.
He swears when he makes a bad shot or splashes in the water and complains about his chipping game, players say.
He talks nearly nonstop.
“We talked about the tax bill and how it got done, about North Korea, we talked about anything he wanted to talk about, what his fights were, what he liked least and most about his day,” Sharon Funk, Fred Funk’s wife, said in a 2018 interview. “We talked about his tweeting. He said, that’s his way of getting to the people. Every person he plays golf with, I think they talk to him about his tweeting.”
“He would talk about anything,” Taylor Funk added. “He’d say, ‘Do you think I’m doing a good job on that?’ ”
Trump also loves to quiz famous golfers about their travails, their favorite shots and how they learned the game. “Most of the questions he had were about golf. What made Tiger so good? What made Jack so good? Who was better?” Taylor Funk said.
He regularly goes off on asides about golf in Oval Office meetings. A former aide to Paul D. Ryan said the former speaker of the House would have had a better relationship with Trump if he understood golf and had been able to talk about it. One of the president’s most trusted aides, Dan Scavino, was his former caddie. He often watches golf at the White House, in a dining room off the Oval, and asks professionals such as Funk or Woods how he could improve his game.
How he finds his playing partners is shrouded in mystery — but is a combination of various methods, from people his organization sponsors to elected officials. He rarely plays with White House aides other than Andrew Giuliani, the son of Rudolph W. Giuliani, his lawyer.
Trump shocked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by having so many impromptu chats with members on the course and driving his cart so quickly and all over, according to people familiar with their round. Then, the protocol-obsessed Japanese were surprised to be served a buffet lunch with hot dogs.
When the president was in Europe last summer, he frustrated aides and lawyers by demanding to visit his Scottish golf course for two days in the middle of the trip, according to current and former administration officials.
Trump often plays with friends or members of his club. Sometimes, the president will call a famous golfer or celebrity and invite them over. A regular partner is Albert Hazzouri, a dentist who did not respond to a request for comment but who stressed his ties with Trump when trying to get a license in Florida.
When Trump plays with private citizens, the White House does not release the names or acknowledge that he is playing at all, though video footage taken through the shrubs has captured him. Aides say on occasion, members at his clubs have given the president bad ideas they’ve had to thwart.
There’s another reason for the caginess. The president “insisted on trying to maintain the public perception that he was always working,” former White House staffer Cliff Sims wrote in his book, “Team of Vipers,” explaining why the White House rarely says he golfs.
Trump is proud of his courses, often describing how he designed the bunkers, turns and the intricate features in detail. “He shows how he took out trees, put in traps. He loves to describe how he developed the courses,” Graham said in a 2018 interview. “He really likes showing them off.”
But they’ve also gotten the president in trouble. The Trump Organization has come under fire for employing undocumented immigrants at his clubs and misappropriating Civil War history at one course, among other things.
Ethics experts have suggested it is unethical for the president to return so often to his greens because doing so promotes his business and allows people to effectively buy access. In a tweet, the good-government organization CREW called Trump’s tweet of himself with Woods and Nicklaus “an ad for his side business.”
“A few years ago, it was impossible to imagine a president using official statements” this way, the organization wrote. “Now it’s just an average Saturday.”
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