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Baltusrol Bits – Afternoon Edition (Tuesday, July 26): Player quotes | McIlroy edged out by two yards in Long Drive Contest

SPRINGFIELD, NJ - JULY 26: 2016 PGA Professional Champion, Rich Berberian Jr. shakes hands with President of the New Jersey Section, Scott Paris for the 98th PGA Championship held at the Baltusrol Golf Club on July 26, 2016 in Springfield, New Jersey. (Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

SPRINGFIELD, NJ – JULY 26: 2016 PGA Professional Champion, Rich Berberian Jr. shakes hands with President of the New Jersey Section, Scott Paris for the 98th PGA Championship held at the Baltusrol Golf Club on July 26, 2016 in Springfield, New Jersey. (Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)


I will be providing daily notebooks of bits, nuggets, thoughts, and information throughout PGA Championship Week here at Baltusrol Golf Club in my hometown of Springfield, New Jersey:

Quotes from Tuesday’s press conferences

Phil Mickelson, 2005 PGA Champion at Baltusrol: Being back: “Well, this is a special tournament and golf course for me, because of having won the PGA Championship here in 2005. A lot of history has taken place here, and for me to be a part of it means a lot. I’ve had a lot of relationships over the last 11 years kind of form and develop here in the area. None more important than Doug Steffen, the head pro here, who after 20 years here at the club, is going to be retiring at the end of the year. He and his wife, Gina, have become very good friends over the years, and it all stemmed from our time at Baltusrol back in 2005. And then we’ve got Little Joe’s Pizzeria over there in Summit. It’s a great place to eat. I’ve been coming here now 11 years; also going back to the Jersey Science Center over in Jersey City, where we’ve been having the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy for the last 11 years there. This is our 12th year and we just had it last week. I’ve spent a lot of time in the area here over the years and it’s meant a lot to me to be part of the community here and to spend time. To come back and play another PGA Championship at Baltusrol is special.”

On fans here: “The people here, the way they have been so good to me and my family and have supported me and have been very helpful in my success in this area; it not only makes it fun to play but it also keeps my energy level up throughout the round when I have a tendency to make a mistake or two. And so it helps me overcome some of those mistakes. But I’m very appreciative for the way that the people here have treated me.”

Danny Willett, 2016 Masters Champion: On Baltusrol: “Ball-striking is probably key around here, putting it in the fairways and putting it in the middle of the greens. Pretty generous-sized greens, got a couple of little undulations to them, so give yourself as many birdie chances as possible. If scoring last time is anything to go by, like I said, you’ll be right up there if you hit a lot of greens, a lot of fairways.”

After last major of the year: “We’re going to take a week off next week and just chill out a little bit over here with the family. Then I’m going to travel down to Rio, and, yeah, compete in the Olympics down there. Hopefully everything goes well. I haven’t heard anything too bad recently. I think everything is settling down over there which will be great because I’m looking forward to that quite a lot. Then yeah, I’m actually not going to play too much, only kind of two or three times before The Ryder Cup. Try and stay fresh. Like I said, we’re in a fortunate position where we’re guaranteed in, so we can kind of use it now and prepare for that and make sure that when we pitch up there, we’ve got a lot of good work under our belt so we can go there and try to perform and help Clarkey (Darren Clarke, European Captain) keep The Ryder Cup.”

Davis Love III (U.S. Ryder Cup Captain): On why not playing his 30th career PGA this week: “I had hip surgery, tomorrow (Wednesday) will be three weeks. It set in this week when I arrived here and got my courtesy car and got a parking spot and had a locker in the champion’s area and I opened my locker and there were no golf balls. Titleist guys didn’t put any balls in there, so that means I’m not playing. So the reality did set in, unfortunately not getting to play in my 30th PGA Championship. And obviously the last round with Phil (Mickelson) the last time we were here didn’t come out in my favor, but I enjoy playing Baltusrol and I enjoy playing in the Met Section where my dad got his start in golf, so it’s disappointing. I’m ahead of schedule, feeling great. I told my doctor: I wanted to obviously play golf as soon as possible, but I wanted to be walking, jogging, probably the first of September, so when the Ryder Cup came around, I didn’t have any issues and I was able to go, keep up with these guys watching them play. I’m feeling good and excited about it.”

Characteristics looking for in Captain’s picks: “Well, if I had to stop right now and make the captain’s picks, I think we’d be wanting to make pairings. We’ve got obviously some guys that are playing great. But when I look outside of the top eight, there’s right in there, there’s some guys that are obvious match-ups for guys that are on the team. So making our pairings, rounding out our personalities, both leadership and youth, and what I’ll be looking for. But again, it will be plugging holes. If you can get one guy to be a leader and one guy to match up, make a perfect pairing, and one guy to fill in a blank, either veteran or rookie, I think that’s how you use him. So I’m looking more, it’s right now I’m looking more pairings I think than anything. We found that with Paul Azinger’s team and with our team in 2012, that looking past who is hot to who matches up well – you don’t want to pick a guy and go, now what do I do, who do I pair him with. You want to know that going in; I’ve got a good combination, if I pick this guy for this guy; if I pick this guy for this guy, that’s a great foursome to go practice, they all really get along really well. My backup plan is to switch those four guys around. So using your picks to make sure that you have good pairings and good teams.

Obviously I’ve been lucky. I’ve gotten to watch Jay and Fred do it three times. I got to watch Corey do it. So I’ve seen how to skillfully make your captain’s selections and how they pan out. I think we, putting myself in the group of assistants and captains, we’ve done a pretty good job with our picks, making good pairings and good match-ups. That’s the way I’m going to be looking at it, who is hot, who is putting well, who loves being on the big stage and then who matches up well with somebody else on the team, make an easy pairing. Pick Fred Couples to play with Davis Love, that makes a good pairing.”

Bubba Watson (playing in 10th PGA): Facet of your game that suites Baltusrol: “I think length. Obviously the numbers, if you look at the numbers of the golf course, length is an advantage. Does it mean I’m going to play well? I can’t tell you that. But you look at the numbers and can say with my driver, if I can hit my driver halfway decent, I’ll have a better advantage over some of the guys, at least half the field.”

Rory McIlroy (8th PGA appearance, two-time champ): On PGA of America picking PGA Championship sites: “Yeah, I think the PGA do a great job in choosing their venues. I feel like a lot of the courses that I’ve played in PGA Championships have been very fair. Everything is straight out in front of you. You don’t really need to trick it up much. So it’s a fair golf course. This week especially, I feel like everything, as I said, everything is straight out in front of you. There’s no real hidden secrets to it. And I feel that’s what really let’s me excel. I feel like I can play my game in PGA Championships. I can hit driver off the tee the most time, and from there, if I drive it well, I feel like I have a big advantage. It’s all been a tournament that’s set up well for me. I’ve had some good finishes here. Obviously the wins in 2012 and 2014, but then I’ve had a couple of top threes, a couple of Top-10s, apart from that, as well. So it’s been a good tournament for me.”

Jordan Spieth (looking for third major, and 1st PGA title): On Baltusol: “I think it’s fantastic. It’s a big golf course. It’s university-like in that you play 16 holes before you see a par 5, at least, teeing off on the front nine. You don’t see 34, 36 very often, which leaves you with a couple less birdie holes on the front nine. Fantastic finish with the last three. You’ve got to hit the ball long and straight, and then from there, if you keep it in or right near the fairway, you’re going to be able to take advantage of quite a few of these holes with 8, 9 or wedge into the green. So it’s just a really good – I consider it one of the top American golf courses that there is. I’ve enjoyed my time playing it.”

On playing with Phil today: “He didn’t bring it up. I actually on the first hole just walked over and said, “Phil, what a fantastic performance. It was a lot fun to watch. Really a bit unlucky. You certainly deserved it.” And that’s when he said, “Hey, I’ve been on that side of things, Masters in ’15, and Troon even more so two weeks ago.” But then he’s seen himself on the other side of things where no one is running away with it and he wins in a close battle or he wins by a lot, whether it’s in a major or regular TOUR event. It seemed like he was certainly content with it but certainly a little – felt like he deserved that Claret Jug again. I think he felt like he played as well as he did in the last Open at Muirfield. But that’s putting words into his mouth that I probably shouldn’t do. He was pleased with the way he played. Seemed to be feeling a little unfortunate about it, like anybody would.”

Henrik Stenson (recently-crowned Open Champion): Has the Open Championship sunk in yet: “Yeah, it’s been an exciting time since we finished off at Troon. A couple of hectic days; a lot of media back home in Sweden. It was huge – for me, of course, but for Swedish golf, as well, we have been waiting for a male player to win a major championship for the last 25 years, and it finally happened – well, forever I guess. But certainly in the last 25 years since some of the early players had some chances, Jesper Parnevik in particular. That was massive. Then I had some time with the family and of course I could every now and again give that Claret Jug a little glare and it brought a grin to my face every time, I’m sure. Yeah, it’s fantastic. It’s a boyhood dream come true and something I wanted to achieve all my life, and then it finally happened. So yeah, I’m delighted and at the same time, we’re in the middle of a big season. It’s a hectic season with the PGA Championship being the last major and then into the Olympics and FedExCup and Ryder Cup, and Race to Dubai finish. It’s still a lot of golf, so we’ve still got to try and focus on what’s ahead.”

On Baltursol: “I haven’t really looked at it. I still haven’t played the full golf course. I’m going to play the back nine tomorrow morning. It was so hot yesterday and I did a bit of practice. I wanted to walk the course but I decided to conserve energy and not get out there any longer. I played the front nine mid-morning today, and as I said, there’s a lot of par 4s, a lot of emphasis on hitting fairways and greens. The greens are, with a gradient, with a slope on them, quite tricky if you get on the high side. Position your iron play and leave yourself uphill putts as much as possible and stay out of the rough and you’re going to have a good week. Score-wise, I haven’t even thought about that. Given that for one of the few times in my career, I didn’t know what score I shot on Sunday. The last tournament I played there in the last five holes, I was so zoned in on playing one shot at a time. So it’s probably a good thing not thinking about too much on the score. Just go out there and play as well as I can, and hopefully I will get somewhat close to the game I had at The Open.”

Rory gets outdistanced by a mere two yards: Byeong Hun An outdistanced Rory McIlroy, 347-345, to capture the third annual PGA Championship Long Drive Competition at Baltusrol. Nicolas Colsaerts (341 yards), Brendan Steele (338 yards), and Matt Dobyns (337 yards) rounded out the top five.

Follow me on Twitter: @loumonaco, @doublegsports

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