Lefty hopes to make some more his­tory at Riviera in North­ern Trust Open

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

LOS AN­GE­LES (AP) — No one is about to change the nick­name to Phil’s Place or Lefty’s Lane.

Riviera has been known as “Ho­gan’s Al­ley” for more than a half-cen­tury af­ter Ben Ho­gan turned this fa­bled course along Sun­set Boule­vard into his per­sonal play­ground. He won the Los An­ge­les Open in con­sec­u­tive years, and won twice in one sea­son in 1948 when he added a U.S. Open victory.

But no one — not Ho­gan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Wat­son or Fred Cou­ples — has ever won at Riviera three straight years. That’s what Phil Mick­el­son will set out to do when the North­ern Trust Open be­gins Thurs­day.

“I don’t have a good ex­pla­na­tion for it,” Mick­el­son said.

And to think he was only a good chip away from al­ready hav­ing won three straight years. Mick­el­son only needed a par on the 18th hole to win at Riviera in 2007 un­til he hit a chip that came out flat and missed an 18-foot putt. Charles How­ell beat him in a play­off.

Mick­el­son won the next two years, com­fort­ably in 2008 and with a strong fin­ish last year to beat Steve Stricker.

Strangely enough, Mick­el­son used to avoid this place ear­lier in his ca­reer be­cause he wasn’t get­ting very good re­sults. Now, he can’t wait to get to Riviera.

The only ques­tion is what kind of game he brings.

Mick­el­son, who ended last year with vic­to­ries in the Tour Cham­pi­onship and HSBC Cham­pi­ons in Shang­hai, couldn’t wait to get started this year. Per­haps he was too ex­cited. He felt nerves of an­tic­i­pa­tion, lost some of his tim­ing and never se­ri­ously threat­ened at Tor­rey Pines, where he fin­ished 19th.

He had talked about his driv­ing go­ing from a li­a­bil­ity to a weapon, then walked to the tee for his proam and hit his tee shot on the next fair­way, of­fer­ing a sheep­ish grin. His tee shots never im­proved dur­ing the week, and one got stuck in a tree.

As he played the pro-am late Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon at Riviera, Mick­el­son of­fered one rea­son.

Af­ter the tour­na­ment, he pulled the head of his driver off the shaft and no­ticed the in­side of the shaft had been cracked so badly that it was about five swings away from shat­ter­ing.

Then again, af­ter shar­ing that story and how he has it fixed, he sent a tee shot on the third hole into the left rough.

Even so, Mick­el­son is ex­cited to get started this week, hope­ful that the fo­cus re­turns to his golf.

The world’s No. 2 player was in the news quite a bit last week, not over his driver but his wedge. He was among five play­ers who have used the Ping Eye2 wedge with square grooves — which don’t con­form to the new rules but are ap­proved to play be­cause of a set­tle­ment from two decades ago.

That prompted Scott McCar­ron to say it was “cheat­ing,” and Mick­el­son fired back by say­ing he had been “pub­licly slan­dered.” Mick­el­son might have put the con­tro­versy to rest — at least for now — by say­ing he had made his point against the USGA and ac­cepted an apol­ogy from McCar­ron.

The next chal­lenge comes from Riviera, which is in pris­tine con­di­tion, and from the strong­est field on the PGA Tour so far this year.

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