Mickelson won this tournament in 2001 and 2002. He returned in 03 for a chance at a three-peat, but ultimately finished tied for 58th. And he hasnt been back since ' a streak of absence that will be extended this year.
He was scheduled to compete in the two-day ING Par-3 Shootout, which began Monday, but pulled out, saying: Its always about having fun and I didnt think it was fair to the event to act like I could have a lot of fun right now.
Mickelson isnt the only top-10 player taking off this week ' just the most notable, given his history in this tournament, and his most recent history on a golf course. None of the top 10 ranked players in the world are in attendance. In fact, only two of the top 30 players in the world are here ' Kenny Perry and Nick OHern.
That means good news for a bunch of players in need of a good paycheck.
This is the 26th week on the 2006 PGA TOUR calendar, meaning, including the Buick Championship, there are only 19 weeks remaining.
Its not yet time to panic ' that doesnt happen until after the PGA Championship. But, if players dont make a move over the next couple of months, they will have to endure much grief trying to secure their card as soon as the major season is over.
Last years Buick Championship was contested in late August after the PGA Championship. Its been moved up two months for this year. It will keep a similar spot on next years FedEx Cup schedule, but will have a new sponsor, The St. Paul Travelers Companies. The Travelers Championship will be contested the week after the U.S. Open.
While it would seem that, without a star-studded field, this would be a great event for a young player like Camilo Villegas to earn a break-through victory; the Buick Championship has recently catered to TOUR veterans. And not only TOUR vets, but those with lengthy winless droughts.
In 2003, 49-year-old Peter Jacobsen won for the first time since 1995. The next year, 40-year-old Woody Austin won for the first time since 95. And last year, 44-year-old Brad Faxon won for the first time since 2001.
Will the trend continue this week, or will someone new establish his name? Here are our favorites at the TPC at River Highlands:
Perhaps its Azingers turn. He certainly fits the criteria: hes 46 years old and hasnt won on TOUR since 2000. Now that his primary focus has returned to playing golf and not broadcasting it, Azinger has seen some positive progress recently. He has made the cut in each of his last four starts, posting a tie for 16th and a 10th-place finish among those results. Hes currently inside the top 100 on the money list right now and a good finish this week would secure his card for next season (hes using his Top 50 on the Career Money List exemption this year). In 19 career starts in this event, he has only three top-10s; two of those, however, are victories (1987 and 1989).
Austins two-year exemption for winning the 2004 Buick Championship runs out this year. However, he is a pretty good bet to keep his card, as he is safely inside the top 90 on the money list at the moment, thanks primarily to a tie for seventh at the Memorial Tournament. It took a while, but Austin may have finally figured out how to play this TPC at River Highlands course. He had three missed cuts and not a single top-40 in his first six starts here. Over his last two trips, however, he has a win and a tie for ninth.
For a man who has never finished outside the top 100 on the money list over his 19-year career, Perry is having an atypical season in 06. He has yet to post a top-10 and is 114th in earnings; though, he is exempt through 2008 due to his two-win season in 2005. Part of that has to do with his being sidelined for two months due to a knee injury. He came back in May, a finally got a good result at last week's Booz Allen where he finished tied for 13th. This could be a good tournament for him to build on that momentum. Perry has played this event 17 times and has six career top-10s, including four in his last six appearances.
Outside of winning the 2002 WGC-Match Play Championship, Sutherland has never done anything spectacular in his 11-year career. But hes been very consistent, finishing inside the top 125 on the money list every year since 1996. A good finish this week could help keep that streak alive. Currently 128th in earnings, Sutherland has eight top-20 finishes in 10 starts at the Buick Championship.
Thanks to a runner-up finish in Tucson and a couple of other top-10s this season, Kelly has secured playing status for next year. If he can win this week, hell have it locked up for 08 as well. Kelly, who is seeking his first win since 2002, when he won twice, missed the cut in each of his first four trips around River Highlands. But he has three top-20s over his last four starts, including a tie for fourth a year ago.