Bunker Shots Remedy for a slow start


Blasting into the week ahead, from Lefty’s debut to another strong event in the Middle East.

Farmers Insurance Open

The PGA Tour’s sluggish start might have a remedy this week.

Dr. Phil’s making a house call.

That’s the role Phil Mickelson served on the U.S. Presidents Cup team last fall. Captain Fred Couples kept throwing players who needed some medicinal aid at him and Mickelson kept providing the remedy required. Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard and Sean O’Hair all got healing help hitching their games to Mickelson’s in the team event. Nobody lost while paired with Mickelson in that week's victory against the Internationals.

Mickelson could give the entire PGA Tour a booster shot this week with a quick start.

Though Mickelson likes to play himself into shape early in the year, he knows fast starts. He’ll be looking to win his season opener for the fifth time in his career when he tees it up in Thursday’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. He’ll be looking to do it for the first time since he won the Bob Hope Classic six years ago.

If Mickelson can pull it off, he’ll have achieved a first in his 19-year professional career. Though he has claimed 40 titles worldwide since turning pro in 1992, he’s never won three tournaments in a row. Mickelson won his last two starts in 2009, the Tour Championship and the WGC-HSBC Champions.

Stance: With Tiger Woods turning Torrey Pines into his traditional first start, the event has come to feel like the start of the PGA Tour season the last few years. Woods made it a big-bang start winning his season debuts there in ’06, ’07 and ’08, but his recovery from knee surgery kept him away in ’09 and the troubles in his personal life are keeping him away again this season. He isn’t the only big name staying away this year. Mickelson is the only top-10 player in the world rankings in the event.

Takeaway: Four events into the new year, with January coming to a close, it still doesn’t feel like the PGA Tour season has begun in earnest. The PGA Tour’s season-opener may never feel like Major League Baseball’s Opening Day, but the Tour could use a big event earlier in its schedule. Why not move the Accenture Match Play Championship to this week, a week before the Super Bowl? The Accenture feels like an All-Star Game with some March Madness bracketing creating office pool fun. The action-packed first two rounds of Match Play and all their upsets rank among the most crazy days of the season. The game could use the energy earlier in the year.

Bunker shot: Mickelson believes his work with Butch Harmon is paying off with his driver becoming more dependable. He believes Dave Stockton’s making his putter more reliable. He made believers of fellow Tour pros beating Woods at the Tour Championship and whipping him head-to-head in the final round of the HSBC Champions in China. There’s evidence he’s poised for his best season yet.

Commercialbank Qatar Masters

Back in the day, pros used to say the golf season didn’t begin until the Florida Swing.

You could argue now that it begins with the European Tour’s Middle Eastern Swing.

The start feels so much more important over there.

The game’s highest ranked players are testing their games against each other in the desert yet again this week.

Stance: Eight of the top 14 players in the world teed it up at the Abu Dhabi Championship last week. By comparison, the PGA Tour’s Bob Hope Classic didn’t feature a single player among the top 14. The Qatar Masters boasts seven of the top 14 players in the world this week, nine of the top 20. Mickelson’s the lone player from the top 14 at the Farmers Insurance Open, with just three of the top 20 competing.

Takeaway: South African Charl Schwartzel will be looking to win his third consecutive European Tour start. After winning back-to-back events in his homeland, he took last week off. With a stiffer test this week, we get a better gauge of what to make of his start. Long-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros is the defending champ.

Bunker shot: With his victory against a strong field at Abu Dhabi last week, Germany’s Martin Kaymer continued to build on his swelling reputation, leaping eight spots to No. 6 in the world rankings. He’s 25 but has won three European Tour events in the last six months, five for his career. He tied for sixth in his last major, the PGA Championship. His record over the last six months might be even more impressive if he hadn’t missed two months after breaking three bones in his right foot in a go-kart accident last August. Kaymer looks like the next European star in the making.

And also . . .

The Nationwide Tour’s 21st season begins with Thursday’s start to the Michael Hill New Zealand Open at the Hills Golf Club in Queenstown.