Mickelson leaning toward a belly putter

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Mickelson leaning toward a belly putter

NORTON, Mass. (AP) - Two drivers at the Masters. No drivers at the U.S. Open.

Phil Mickelson threw in yet another surprise Thursday at the Deutsche Bank Championship with a belly putter in his golf bag, saying he was likely to become the next in a growing list of players to see if it will help make more putts.

"It's awkward to me," Mickelson said after his pro-am round at the TPC Boston . "But so many guys have had success with it that I thought I'd give it a try."

The longer putters have been getting more attention this year, especially after Keegan Bradley became the first player to win a major with one at the PGA Championship.

Mickelson, once renowned for a silky putting stroke, has been struggling the past several years on shorter distances.

Not only has he been a mentor to Bradley this year, Mickelson played with the 25-year-old rookie last week at The Barclays and began grilling him about a putter in which the end of the grip anchors into the stomach.

Mickelson had one built to similar specifications as Bradley and received his new toy Monday. Then, he called Bradley over the last few days to ask questions how to use it.

So it's a rookie teaching a four-time major champion?

"Yeah, it is funny," Mickelson said. "You can always learn, and he putts it extremely well, and it rolls so nicely off the face."

It didn't work out for him during the pro-am when Mickelson took 34 putts, including 18 on his opening nine.

"I was a little shady with it on the front nine, but a little bit better with it on the back," he said. "Look, I don't mind trying new things. I've hit two drivers and no drivers, and I don't mind trying something different. We'll see."

The timing is peculiar.

Only last week, Mickelson said he had grabbed a belly putter off the rack and tried it out, and that he would not "rule it out."

He also said, however, that a player has to understand the technique of using a longer putter because the motion is different from a conventional size.

"I don't know those little secrets ... and so I don't really putt very effectively with it," he said.

One week later, he is willing to try it in the second FedEx Cup playoff event.

Mickelson dropped five spots to No. 11 in the standings. The idea is to at least get into the top five before the Tour Championship at the end of the month as he tries to win the FedEx Cup and the 10 million prize for the first time.

Plus, he won the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2007 and considers the TPC Boston "one of my favorite courses we play all year." The third playoff event is at Cog Hill, one of his least favorite courses.

Only the top 100 players advanced to the second playoff event at Boston, although the field is only 99 players because J.B. Holmes had successful brain surgery Thursday that will keep him out the rest of the year.

The top 70 after this week move on to the BMW Championship at Cog Hill in two weeks.

Among those on the bubble are Ian Poulter (No. 78) and Padraig Harrington (No. 80), both of whom had to play well last week at the rain-shortened Barclays simply to advance.

At the top is Dustin Johnson, who won The Barclays with a 65 before the rain from Hurricane Irene arrived. Johnson became only the sixth player to win multiple playoff events - he won at Cog Hill last year - and he understands why the list is so short.

"These are the few events where you get all the top 100 or 125 or the top 70 on the FedEx Cup ... all playing at the same time," Johnson said. That's why it makes it harder. And there's only four each year."

Tiger Woods was at the Deutsche Bank, but not for long. Woods failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time, although the tournament benefits his foundation. He showed up Wednesday night for the pro-am pairings party.

His absence - not only from the playoffs, but from dominating the PGA Tour as he once did - has created plenty of parity. That extends to the playoffs, which is up for grabs.

Luke Donald is at No. 5 in the standings, even though he has been No. 1 in the world since the end of May. Donald has only one win in the United States this year, at the Match Play Championship in Arizona, although his consistency is what has taken him to the top of the world ranking. He figures winning might not be too far behind.

"The goal is to win," Donald said. "I think winning is more important than ever during the playoffs. There's a lot more volatility, and winning is very important. Hopefully, I'll have a good chance come Sunday."

Chalk that up to Donald being a creature of habit. The Deutsche Bank Championship ends Labor Day.

For all that's at stake - not only an 8 million tournament, but a chance to move closer to the FedEx Cup trophy - nothing dominated the talk Thursday than seeing a belly putter in Mickelson's bag.

Donald was asked what he found the biggest surprise in the playoffs so far - an earthquake last week in New Jersey or the three-time Masters champion with a belly putter.

"Probably the first one," he said with a smile. "I think if you look at stats, Phil hasn't been the best putter in terms of stats for a long time. He's known as someone that putts well, but in streaks. And he's obviously looking for a bit more consistency, maybe even on those shorter ones."

Mickelson has not been among the top 50 in the tour's new "Strokes Gained" putting statistic since 2006.

Johnson said he would have to see Lefty holding a belly putter to believe it.

"Is he using a belly right now? I doubt he'll putt with it," Johnson said. "But as good as the guys that are using bellies are putting right now, I've thought about it. So it certainly doesn't surprise me."

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.