Golf roundup

Mickelson maintains lead in Desert Classic

Phil Mickelson made three long birdie putts on the back nine Saturday to take a two-stroke lead into the final round of the Desert Classic at La Quinta, Calif.

Making his first start of the year, the 48-year-old Mickelson shot a bogey-free 6-under 66 on the Stadium Course at PGA West to get to 22-under 194.

"I don't know what to say," Mickelson said. "I played OK and my goal or game plan of playing the Stadium Course is to actually hit drivers and to try to bomb it down there as close to the greens as you can. ... It seemed to play out OK and I gave myself a lot of good chances. I missed a few short putts ... but I also made a couple of long ones that were nice little bonuses."

He topped the leaderboard for the third straight day after matching his career-low score with an opening 60 at La Quinta Country Club and shooting a 68 on Friday on PGA West's Nicklaus Tournament Course.

"It's so fun," Mickelson said. "I just love being in contention, having a chance to win, being in the final group, feeling the nerves, feeling that excitement, the opportunity. It's just, it's really fun."

The tournament winner in 2002 and 2004, Lefty rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt on the par-3 13th and added a 12-footer on the par-4 14th. After missing a 10-foot try on the par-5 16th to spoil an up-and-down bid from the deep greenside bunker, he ran in a 25-footer on the island green, par-3 17th called Alcatraz.

Adam Hadwin was second after a 65 on the Nicklaus layout. The Canadian has three straight top-six finishes in the event. He was second in 2017 after a third-round 59 at La Quinta and tied for third last year.

"Living in Phoenix these past few years, this is the golf that I play every day," Hadwin said. "The greens are exactly what we play back in Scottsdale. So I would assume that might add to some of the comfort. It's really hard to pinpoint. For whatever reason as soon as I get down here in the desert I start playing some good golf."

Mickelson is making his first tour start since early October and first competitive appearance since beating Tiger Woods in Las Vegas in November in a made-for-TV event. The Hall of Famer won the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship last year for his 43rd PGA Tour title and first since the 2013 British Open.

After opening with five straight pars, he chipped in for birdie on the par-3 sixth and birdied the next two.

"Every once in a while you just need that little putt, chip, something to fall and give you a little momentum," Mickelson said. "I followed that with two more birdies, so that was kind of the shot that ignited that little run and got the round going."

He'll be back on the Stadium Course for the final round.

"It's a course you don't have to be perfect on, you have to hit a lot of good shots in certain spots, but if you miss it, miss it properly, you can still play this course," Mickelson said. "I feel like I don't have to be perfect, I can come out, play aggressive, which is how I like to play, try to crush drivers and get it down as close as I can to the greens and see if I can make some more birdies."

Adam Long was third at 19 under after a 63 at La Quinta, and Steve Marino had a 67 on the Nicklaus layout to get to 18 under. Defending champion Jon Rahm was tied for seventh at 16 under after a 68 at the Stadium.

Top-ranked Justin Rose was tied for 29th at 12 under after his third straight 68, this time on the Stadium Course. He's the first No. 1 player to play the tournament since the world ranking began in 1986. 

Ko, Ji share lead at LPGA opener

Lydia Ko could only think about the putts that didn't go in, perhaps because she was used to making so many.

Ko ran off four birdies on the front nine for a 30, and it was enough to carry her to a 5-under 66 and a share of the lead with Eun-Hee Ji going into the final round of the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions on the LPGA Tour at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Ji also was hot early, and a pair of birdies early on the back nine gave her a 66.

They were at 13-under 200.

Brooke Henderson of Canada was poised to make it a three-way tie at the top until she made bogey on the par-3 closing hole for a 69, leaving her one shot behind. Nelly Korda had an eagle and four birdies for a 65 and was two shots off the lead.

Ko closed with seven straight pars.

"I felt like there were a few putts that I thought I holed and it didn't go in," she said. "But I holed a really long one on 8 — that one, I probably didn't deserve — so everything balances out. It felt like I gave myself quite a few good looks and just wasn't able to hole in. But at the end of the day, all I can do is put a good roll on it and just give myself good opportunities out there."

Now she has an opportunity to start 2019 with a victory, something that took her until April to do last year as she began to emerge from a slump.

The LPGA Tour season opener is limited to winners each of the last two seasons for a $1.2 million purse. It also includes a 49-player field of celebrities and athletes competing for a $500,000 purse. Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz had 39 points in the modified Stableford format, giving him a four-point lead over retired pitcher Mark Mulder. Mardy Fish from the world of tennis was five points behind.

Ko has been enjoying the interaction with athletes.

"You don't know what time it is out there. You're just having a really good time," she said. "I've never been caught up in what position I am and what I need to do. I probably need to do that a little bit more tomorrow so I know what I need to do coming down the stretch, or the whole day, really."

Ariya Jutanugarn, the No. 1 player in the world who swept all the major awards last year, failed to make a birdie in her round of 75 to fall nine shots behind.

Stacy Lewis, in her first tournament as a mother, bounced back from a 74 to post a 66. She was six shots behind.

"Honestly, if I could finish this thing under par for four days, I was going to be happy," Lewis said. "I've hit some good chip shots, I've hit some good putts. I feel like the touch and the feel is coming back. I still hit some weird golf shots, which is fatigue, I think, more than anything. Got pretty tired toward the end of the round yesterday. Just really happy where things are."

The forecast for the final round was cooler temperatures in the upper 50s and 20 mph wind with gusts even stronger. Henderson hopes that works in her favor.

"I think I can grind it out, and a lot of my wins have come in windy conditions," Henderson said. "I tend to play a little bit better. Hopefully, things go my way, but it's really cool to be in this position going into Sunday. I feel like I have a lot of positive things to take."

Lowry wins in Abu Dhabi

Shane Lowry made birdie on the last hole to finish off a wire-to-wire victory in the Abu Dhabi Championship.

If only it were that simple.

His three-shot lead to start the final round was gone in three holes. When he walked off the 11th green with his fourth bogey of the round, Lowry found himself trailing Richard Sterne by four shots with seven holes to play.

The 31-year-old Irishman showed plenty of fight the rest of the way and delivered his best full swing when he needed it. Lowry hit 3-wood onto the green at the par-5 18th and two-putted for birdie and a 1-under 71 for a one-shot victory.

Lowry won for the first time since he captured the World Golf Championship at Firestone in the summer of 2015.

"I completely thought I was gone, to be honest," Lowry said. "I just tried to put him under as much pressure as I could. But I didn't think I had that in me today."

Sterne, who closed with a 69, applied plenty of pressure by opening with four birdies in five holes to take a one-shot lead, and Lowry started to falter around the turn with a pair of bogeys that dropped him four shots behind.

Lowry thought about the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he took a four-shot lead into the final round and closed with a 76 as Dustin Johnson surged to victory.

"The one thing I got from Oakmont is I laid down and I didn't show any fight or bottle there, and I did that today," Lowry said. "I felt after the 11th hole, I was getting myself in the same situation that I got myself in Oakmont and I genuinely thought that. But I kind of had a quick word with myself and told myself to just kick on now and just see what I can do for the next seven holes."

Sterne, who shot 31 on the front nine, came back with bogeys on the 14th and 16th, and Lowry holed a 12-foot par putt on No. 17 that he feels won him the tournament. The Irishman had a big advantage going to the 562-yard closing hole because Sterne only had a 5-wood in his bag, not enough club to get home in two.

"The shot he hit into 18 was world class," Sterne said. "It was just out of reach with my 5-wood. ... I tried it and it didn't come off."

Lowry started the tournament by tying the course record with a 62. He ended it by hanging on for dear life, and delivering clutch moments at the end with his putter on the 17th and his 3-wood on the 18th.

"It was an emotional roller coaster today," Lowry said. "I obviously went out with the lead by a few and before I knew it, I was four behind. I was brave out there today. I grounded out well and I'm over the moon."

Lowry finished at 18-under 270 for his fourth career victory on the European Tour.

The timing worked out well for the Irishman. The victory allowed him to crack the top 50 — at least No. 41 — and takes him to the top of the Race to Dubai. That assures him a spot in two World Golf Championships over the next two months — Mexico City and the Match Play in Texas — and improves his chances of staying in the top 50 by the end of March to get into the Masters.

Brooks Koepka closed with a 70 and tied for ninth, assuring that Justin Rose — who is playing the PGA Tour in California this week — will remain at No. 1 in the world.

 

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