Consolation Prize for All but Three Players


AKRON, Ohio -- Phil Mickelson has spent the last two days home in San Diego, still basking over a PGA Championship victory that made his year complete.
U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell was all smiles at the NEC Invitational, fresh off his best year in the majors. Tiger Woods turned heads Tuesday when he revealed that he left Baltusrol on Sunday night, even though he still had a slim chance to get into a playoff at the PGA.
Tiger has won 10 majors, so maybe he can go home on a Sunday night, Padraig Harrington said.
The majors are over.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods signs autographs for his fans at the NEC Invitational.
For everyone else, this is the time to create new goals for the rest of the year.
Vijay Singh joined Woods as the only players with top-10s in all four majors this year. The best he can do now is finish atop the PGA Tour money list for the third straight year, win more tournaments than anyone else for the second straight year and try to warrant consideration for player of the year.
Davis Love III and Mike Weir are trying to earn a trip to Kapalua for the winners-only Mercedes Championships at the start of the season.
Colin Montgomerie has another chance to win his first PGA Tour event in the United States.
Its like starting off a new season, Harrington said. Im playing until the end of the year. Ive had a couple of (good) weeks this year, but my consistency hasnt been there, so I want to get out there and sort of finish off the last three months of the year, and finish strong.
The NEC Invitational begins Thursday on the South course at Firestone, with a $7.5 million purse for the 72 players from 22 countries. First place is worth $1.3 million, $130,000 more than Mickelson got for winning the final major.
The defending champion is Stewart Cink, who went wire-to-wire at Firestone last year in a stop-and-go tournament because of the rain. It came at a good time, because Cink had just been named a captains pick for the Ryder Cup.
Perhaps thats a good omen for Justin Leonard and Fred Couples, picked by Jack Nicklaus at the start of the week for the Presidents Cup.
Some already are assessing their seasons.
Harrington won for the first time on the PGA Tour at the Honda Classic in March, then won again at the Barclays Classic at Westchester. But his year in the majors was a wreck, mostly because his father was diagnosed with cancer before the Masters, and died before the British Open.
I know Ive been inconsistent this year. Obviously, theres many reasons for that, Harrington said. But if I finish strong the next couple of months, it will be easy for me in my own mind to convince myself that it was a good year.
Ditto for Sergio Garcia.
He had two top-10s in the majors, but never threatened on the back nine of either. The 25-year-old Spaniard won the Booz Allen Classic at Congressional, but he matched a PGA Tour record by blowing a six-shot lead at the Wachovia Championship in May.
Worse yet, he went another year without a major.
I think its been a solid season, Garcia said. I wouldnt say its been extraordinary, mainly because I havent putted well. To have won once here in the U.S., had quite a lot of top-10s and be performing quite well in the majors, and being 190th or something like that in putting ... still a pretty good effort.
Garcia recently found that he wasnt keeping his head still all the way through impact.
Ive found something that I think is going to help me a lot, and Im looking forward to having a good end of the season, he said.
Even though Cink and Darren Clarke are the last two winners at Firestone, Woods and Mickelson remain the favorites at the second WGC event of the season.
Woods won three straight years at Firestone'by one shot over Mickelson in 1999, by a record 11 shots a year later when he finished in the dark, and after a seven-hole playoff with Jim Furyk in 2001.
He has never finished worse than a tie for fifth at Firestone.
Youve got some of the best players in the world, and youre playing one of the greatest golf courses that we play all year, and its a golf course that could host a major if they ever wanted to, Woods said.
Mickelson is no slouch.
He also won at Firestone, in 1996 when it was known as the World Series of Golf, and almost always finished in the top 10. The last two years have been an exception, both times when his game was starting to slip.
After his performance last week in Baltusrol, expectations are high.
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