Lefty Looks for Repeat Performance at Pebble

RSS

2007 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-AmPEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Phil Mickelson is not ready to be anointed on the Monterey Peninsula, but he's getting close.
 
When he blistered the field and the courses last year in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, tying the tournament scoring record and winning by five shots, it was his third victory in 10 years.
 
The so-called King of Pebble Beach is Mark O'Meara, with five victories.
 
'I'm not there yet,' Mickelson said. 'But maybe one more, I can start to challenge him.'
 
One more would put him in elite company with Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus, whose four victories at Pebble include the '72 U.S. Open. And there's no reason to believe Mickelson won't at least give himself a chance on the weekend.
 
A year ago, he was off to such a slow start that he missed the cut at the FBR Open. Then he found his game, and most found the fairways, to capture the first of four victories worldwide.
 
Mickelson arrived at Pebble Beach with much more momentum.
 
Despite being slowed by a respiratory illness, he made his debut at Torrey Pines with a tie for sixth (albeit 13 shots behind Tiger Woods). A week later, he rallied with a 67 in the final round of the FBR Open to get into a playoff with J.B. Holmes, losing on the first extra hole when Holmes used his extraordinary length to set up a short birdie.
 
And on Tuesday, he had a lengthy session in San Diego with swing coach Butch Harmon to tighten up a few loose shots.
 
'I really expect to have a good week,' Mickelson said. 'I think this is going to be a great week.'
 
He feels the same way about the entire season.
 
There has been so much focus on Woods for several reasons. The world's No. 1 player got everyone's attention in early January when he said the Grand Slam was 'easily within reason,' then showed he wasn't kidding by winning the Buick Invitational by eight shots, and following that with a victory in the Dubai Desert Classic with five birdies on the last seven holes.
 
That has spurred some outrageous speculation that Woods will do what the New England Patriots couldn't -- go 19-0. In the process, Mickelson has become somewhat of a forgotten figure.
 
He lost last summer with a wrist injury, but reveled in beating Woods head-to-head at the Deutsche Bank Championship, and won the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, noting Woods failed to win the China event in his first try.
 
'I'm not overly concerned,' Mickelson said of Woods' 2-0 start to the season. 'Because I think it's great for the game that he's playing well and creating awareness. And I think it's a great opportunity and challenge for us to try to compete. I think as I continue to progress, I'm hoping to continue to have success like I did at Deutsche Bank, in tournaments where he's also in the field.'
 
Woods hasn't been to Pebble Beach since 2002 and likely won't play again until the Accenture Match Play Championship. If that's the case, Greg Norman will make more starts on the PGA Tour than Woods over the next three weeks.
 
Norman, who turns 53 on Sunday, has not played a regular tour event since the International in 2006. Even at the height of his powers, the Shark stopped coming to the Pebble Beach National Pro-am in 1992. But after a few phone calls, he managed to get a spot for him and his 22-year-old son Gregory, the best father-son outing in golf.
 
'He's the one who asked me if we could get in,' Norman said. 'I said, 'Gregory, I don't know if I can get in, let alone get both of us in.' All I did was made a couple of phone calls, and fortunately, we're here. So from my perspective, I'm probably going to be more nervous playing with him than he will be playing with me.'
 
The 180-man field -- the largest on tour because of the three-course rotation -- also includes Davis Love III, who had not played since the first week of September. Love tore ligaments in his ankle, had surgery Oct. 2 and was determined to make it back in time for Pebble Beach, where he has won two times.
 
It is one of three tournaments he has never missed since his rookie season in 1986.
 
'Shoot, just playing this week is a good win for me,' Love said. 'I'm excited for the challenge.'
 
The challenge includes getting his game turned around quickly. Love has qualified for every World Golf Championship since the series began in 1999, but unless he finishes in the top three at Pebble, he likely will miss out on the Match Play in two weeks.
 
Of greater concern is getting into the top 50 -- he has fallen to No. 78 -- or winning a tournament over the next two months to get into the Masters. Love has played the last 70 majors, the longest active streak in golf.
 
'I haven't played since September, so I've got to play a tournament first and see how it goes,' he said. 'The best thing to do is what I've done for the last four months -- not try to analyze the number, not try to figure out what it takes to get in which tournament. Just play well each tournament and I'll play where they let me play.'
 
Mickelson is excited about the year, and for good reason. He has been with short-game guru Dave Pelz for four years, and now that his wrist injury has healed, he is making fast progress with Harmon.
 
'My expectations are higher this year than in the previous two years because I'm starting to drive the ball a lot better, and I've now spent four years with Pelz, and my short irons from 150 (yards) and putting has become much more consistent,' Mickelson said.
 
Are his expectations as high as they have ever been?
 
'Yeah, I would say so,' Mickelson said.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
  • GOLF CHANNEL Airtimes