Gary Woodland: The “Under Performer” Rejoices in Performing

Gary Woodland made nine birdies in a glorious final round 64 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. But that wasn’t enough. It earned him a berth in the one-hole playoff with hometown hero, Chez Reavie, which he won.

Woodland was a natural athlete (basketball) out of the University of Kansas who got by on his athleticism. It’s a great story of belief, commitment and determination. He had grown increasingly impatient of being an “under performer.”

Q. I think this is victory number three for you right now and you’re 33, I think. In the bigger picture, how would you assess your career? You sound like you think you’ve maybe under performed.

Gary Woodland: There’s no doubt about that. Now I probably got out here too soon. Obviously I came to the game late, but I got through Q-School very quickly. Fortunately I got hurt my rookie year in 2009 and I missed a year, which really allowed me to kind of adjust and adapt to being out here.  Continue reading

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Xander Schauffele: The Real Deal at WMPO

Last year’s PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Xander Schauffele (ZAN-der SHAW-fa-lay), attracted my attention in Thursday’s first round in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. First of all, I was reminded that he won the 2017 PGA Tour Championship (first rookie to  ever do that) and the Greenbrier Classic. But the clincher was that he was paired with Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm, two super stars and big men, and Xander is neither, fresh off his rookie year and just 5′ 10″ and 165 pounds.

How would he fare in that pairing and the fever pitch that the WMPO can frequently be?

They went off the back nine very early in the morning so I didn’t pick them up until they were on the par-5 3rd hole. And I was surprised that all three drives were nestled in the middle of the fairway with Rahm having a 10-yard edge. They all hit irons into the green with Phil missing it just off the right edge. Xander went to 5-under with his fifth birdie.  Continue reading

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Phil Mickelson: On Just Playing and Having Fun

Phil Mickelson’s third round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open was as if the “old” Phil showed up. He shot a 6-under 65 with two birdies on the front, five on the back which included running the tables from 15 on in and a stray bogie when a 13-foot par saver lipped out.

Here’s how he did it.

Q. I know you’ve been a little bit frustrated in the last two weeks, I thought you handled the frustration very well. You kept telling me my game’s not that far off, you proved it today.

PHIL MICKELSON: It’s a, there’s a fine line between getting your mind in a mindset to go out and score and go out and play and have fun and getting away from the technical aspect of it. I’ve been working hard the last few months of getting the technical aspect down and it’s been hard for me to kind of transition my focus into play, to have fun and go hit shots and enjoy the day. Today it kind of turned. Today it kind of flipped a little bit. Yesterday I was still struggling getting into the round, if you will, getting focused on the score and how to play each hole the most effective. But today especially on the back nine I made a lot of good birdies.   Continue reading

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Justin Thomas: On The WMPO and Taking Time Off

With a day to go before the Waste Management Phoenix Open starts the players have a chance at a realistic tuneup by playing in the Wednesday pro-am. They’ve changed the format so that each group is assigned two pros; one pro plays the front nine and the second the back. This allows the pros to have a half day to just work on the range.

Justin’s interview began with the Tour-wide, ubiquitous, “How do you like us?”

Q. This is the strongest field this event has had in over a decade. How has the perception or the feel of this event changed even since you first started coming here a few years ago?


Q. The feel, like the perception among the players, perhaps.

JUSTIN THOMAS: I’m not really sure. I know it’s always been a really good field, so that part hasn’t changed too much. At least the feel for me when I was when I first got here it was a little overwhelming because no one knew or cared who I was and it’s finally getting to the point where at least I’m getting some people on my side when I come to this event. It’s awesome. It’s so, at least for me it’s misunderstood, a lot of people are, oh, like you got to go play Phoenix, just because it’s a party and so much fun and this and that. But I really do like this golf course and that’s why I come play. I would never come play a tournament just because it’s fun. It’s the reason I don’t play China or I haven’t played in the past is because I don’t, I just don’t, that course does not fit my eye and I truly don’t feel like I can win there. So it’s like it’s hard for me to go sign up for a golf tournament if I don’t feel like I can win it. I like the place and I think its word’s kind of spreading and once people come here and kind of feel the somewhat of a Major type feel with some of the roars and the crowds, especially on some of those holes where you get a lot of people, but it’s just an enjoyable tournament, the Thunderbirds do an unbelievable job.

Which turned to a question about taking time off. After he finished the President’s Cup, he played the back-to-back Tour events in Kuala Lumpur and Korea, then Tiger’s Bahamas tournament six weeks later and the season opening Tournament of Champions in Maui six weeks after that.  Continue reading

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Hideki Matsuyama: Going For Three With That Same Pause at The Top

Hideki Matsuyama comes into the 2018 Waste Management Phoenix Open as the 2016 and 2017 Champion and with humble aspirations to match Arnold Palmer’s three-peat in ’62, ’63 and ’64.

HIDEKI MATSUYAMA: It’s great to be back in Phoenix, Scottsdale again after a year. I love it here. Being able to win twice the last two years have been really memorable for me and quite an honor. I’m going to do my best this year to three-peat and if I was fortunate enough to do that, I think I would join the King, Arnold Palmer, as the only three-peat winner. That would be something.

Bill Rand: I write about the mental side of the game and I’m curious about how you came to such a pronounced pause at the top of your swing.

HIDEKI MATSUYAMA: That’s a great question. I wish I knew. I really don’t know how that pause got into my swing. I do know that the pause has gotten a lot shorter than it was during my first Masters when I played in Augusta for the first time. I think I was a little bit longer pause then. But, yeah, I wish I knew. Continue reading

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Brendan Steele: On realizing the truth in rote prescriptions

It was another great day at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, short of glorious only because of the high, gauzy clouds that took the luster from the sunshine.

As I was gathering myself in the Media Center to map out my day, Brendan Steele was well into his second round, a little too late to go chase him down. Even though he’s won twice begining the 7th year of his career — 2011 Valero Texas Open in San Antonio and just this season, the 2017 Safeway Open at Silverado Country Club in Napa, California — he’s never really engendered that, “Oh, man! I gotta go see that guy play!” buzz. Maybe that stems from his upbringing in Idyllwild in the California mountains southwest of Palm Springs. They didn’t even have a golf course there.   Continue reading

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WMPO: In the throng with Rickie, Jordan and Jon Rahm

I was finally able to get out on the course at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in time to join Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Spanish phenom, Jon Rohm on the par 5 3rd hole, their 12th. I was glad I had an Inside-The-Ropes badge; the gallery was huge. I caught them coming off the tee — well actually, they were well off of the tee standing in the middle of the fairway idly swinging clubs waiting to go for the green in two — it was the gallery that was still funneling through a bottleneck at the tee.

Once I joined the involuntary laggards, I was able to swing up to just inside the rope line and get to the players just as they were hitting their shots. It wasn’t a big surprise that up ahead, the green was surrounded by a huge gallery.   Continue reading

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WMPO: Bubba, Jordan, Phil and Justin Thomas on the mental side of the game

It was a banner day at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Not just because it was a glorious, windless Arizona day in the mid-70s, but because I was able to ask questions of four of the best players in the game.

Bubba Watson came into the media center with one of his pro-am amateurs, Mark Wahlberg. Continue reading

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Jordan Spieth: The lessons in the quad on the 12th

Jordan Spieth had a five-shot lead when he made the turn at the Masters on Sunday. What could go wrong, particularly with such a reliably tenacious and steely competitor? This was not some new kid who hadn’t been there before. This was the defending champion, U.S. Open champion and, until Jason Day’s recent spurt, the number one player in the world.

He had a spectacular front nine, given the magnitude of the moment, with five birdies and a bogey. He said later that the thought went through his head that with a five-shot lead, all he really needed to do was par in: 36 on the back would be good enough and doable.

This seemingly logical thought wasn’t as benign as it would seem.   Continue reading

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Vicky Hurst: Lessons in a Tour pro’s fall and struggle back

Remember Vicky Hurst? She is the attractive LPGA star whose signature was her Ben Hogan-style cap. She was good enough that she made the 2011 Solheim Cup team as a captain’s pick after just three years on Tour. She had her second best money year in 2012 and then the wheels began to come up. She describes it as a time when serious injury and distracting coaching got the best of her.

But now, she’s back on the LPGA after going back down to the Symetra Tour last year and finishing 8th on the year. I stumbled across her on the range at the JTBC Founders Cup at the Desert Ridge Marriott in Phoenix, Arizona. I have a pretty good eye for the powerful economy of a tour-quality swing and Vicky’s was so good, I stood there and watched ball after ball for over thirty minutes.

I caught up with her the next day on her way for an after-lunch practice.  Continue reading

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