Phil Mickelson schooled Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney in their practice game on Monday. (Getty Images)
Monday Notebook: High stakes, high entertainment for Mickelson
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) -- When he reached the end of his practice round, Phil Mickelson could only chuckle.
“You think anyone has ever grinded this hard on a Monday?” he said.
It was only a practice round at the Open, and a high-stakes game with Dustin Johnson and Nick Watney. But it was high entertainment at the end, even for Mickelson.
The threesome had side bet on stroke play, with the loser paying the winner (whoever finished second was off the hook). Johnson roared out to a big lead, turning in 3 under, until the back nine tripped him up. Mickelson surged to a big lead until back-to-back bogeys, then a tee shot so far left on the 17th he thought he wouldn’t find it.
Watney also was in the rough, searching for his ball. That led Mickelson to wonder aloud, “Has anyone ever gone back to the tee for losing a ball in a practice round?”
Lefty found his ball and salvaged a bogey, sending him to the 18th at 1 under -- two shots ahead of Johnson and Watney.
“I could make a 1 here. That would help,” Johnson said, and it wasn’t clear if he was kidding. After all, he does hit it a long way.
Mickelson, again disproving the theory that his course management is lacking, hammered a driver toward the first tee and was safe. It came down to Johnson and Watney to see who had to pay. Watney holed a 10-foot birdie putt, and Johnson matched him from 8 feet.
They tied at 72. The question was whether they split the tab or had a chip-off.
“You should have figured that out on No. 2,” Mickelson said, making it clear he never expected to lose this game. They headed toward the Valley of Sin with their putters, even as a single behind them, Paul Streeter, was coming up the 18th.
“He’s getting in the way of our game,” one of the caddies said.
Watney and Johnson both got up-and-down with 8-foot putts when Watney suggested they split the cost of losing.
“I don’t split,” Johnson replied.
On the second putt-off, Watney came up short and Johnson made his 4-footer. Pay up, Nick.
Then it was off to the range, not nearly as much fun.
PADDY’S PUSHING HARD: A few years ago, Padraig Harrington would’ve gladly settled for three major championships.
Now, it’s not enough. The two-time Open champion said the outlook changes once you’ve got a few major titles in the trophy case. In addition to winning back-to-back at Carnoustie and Birkdale (2007-08), he captured the 2008 PGA Championship.
“I’m sure when I had zero, if somebody told me I was to win three, I would have said, ‘Thank you very much. I’ll take that’,” Harrington said. “Now, of course, I’ve won three. It’s all about just one more. That’s human nature.”
He might be pushing too hard -- the Irishman hasn’t won a sanctioned tournament since his PGA Championship triumph at Oakland Hills nearly two years ago, and his best finish in the last six majors is 10th.
“I want to go out and win more majors and, if anything, I’m too pushy, too hard, and trying too hard,” Harrington said. “It’s not about sitting back and doing your normal thing and relaxing a little bit and enjoying it. I would be in the other camp of overdoing things.”
Given his results, he’s starting to wonder if that’s the right attitude.
“When you’ve won them, you can ease off a little bit,” Harrington said. “That’s certainly something I’ll be focusing on this week, maybe trying to take a more balanced attitude out to the golf course, relaxing, enjoying it, all those cliches that you hear said about golf. If I take a better attitude out there, I’ll just let it happen.”
He seemed relaxed on Monday. After wrapping up a practice round and heading back toward the clubhouse in a cart, he stopped along the way to sign autographs for a few fortunate fans.
“I actually don’t need my sports psychologist with me anymore this week,” Harrington joked. “I’m going to work with the journalists.”
STRUCK DOWN: Steve Stricker is at St. Andrews for the first time in 10 years. Don’t get the idea he didn’t try to get here more often.
In his second year on the PGA Tour, Stricker flew over to Scotland in 1995 with the hope of getting to St. Andrews. He tried to get a spot as low finisher in the Scottish Open at Carnoustie, but didn’t make it. The tournament ended Saturday back then, to give players a chance at local qualifying on the Sunday and Monday of the Open.
Stricker had his wife, Nikki, on the bag. They went to a local links, and he opened with a 73.
“I knew I needed a low one the next day,” Stricker said Monday, after arriving at St. Andrews.
Without a practice range, Stricker was swinging a club outside the clubhouse to get loose. He birdied the first hole and thought he was on his way. Then he looked in his bag.
“I had one extra club,” he said. “I’m not sure what hole I was on, but I got four strokes (as a penalty).”
And so went his hopes for St. Andrews -- that year, anyway.
WAITING GAME: Brian Davis flew a long way with no guarantee of a tee time.
The PGA Tour regular hopped on one of the charter flights that brought more than two dozen players directly from the John Deere Classic to St. Andrews.
There’s a catch, however: Davis is only the first alternate for the Open, so his hopes of playing depend on someone else dropping out.
Still, Davis figured it was worth a shot, doling out a $1,250 donation to the John Deere charity fund for a seat on the flight. He arrived in Scotland on Monday and will be ready to go if the call comes that a spot in the 156-player field has opened up.