Tiger has won seven straight PGA TOUR events. Phil spread-eagled the field and the golf course Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
By virtue of his five-shot victory over the field down on the Monterey Peninsula Mickelson moved back up to No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking. That means Mickelson and No. 1 Woods can not meet any earlier than the semi-finals.
But they can meet. We in the media are not supposed to root for players. Were supposed to just root for the story. Im rooting for Tiger vs. Phil. Thats the best story right now.
The golf course, by the way, is NOT La Costa, where Woods won in 2003 and 2004. This year its near Tucson at the South Course at The Gallery at Dove Mountain, which can be stretched to 7,356 yards from the back tees.
Yes, yes theres a pretty good little event coming up this week at Riviera. And it almost always offers terrific theater in an historic setting. But this year, at least, it will have to serve as the warm-up act for Tigers quest for No. 8 and Phils hoped-for challenge.
Mickelson is now officially warmed up for 2007. In his first three events of the year he alternately struggled with distance control on the short irons and then, last week at the FBR Open, with his putting.
His swing coach, Rick Smith, believed Mickelson was closer than it appeared to returning to top form. I just hope, Smith told me, Phil doesnt lose patience.
Dave Pelz, Mickelsons short-game advisor, got with Phil at Pebble last week and the results were immediate. Mickelson started getting his putts tracking on line and the results were 31 one-putts in 72 holes. On Sunday at Pebble alone, Mickelson birdied nine of, arguably, the most photogenic 18 golf holes in the world.
When Mickelson melted down on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open last June at Winged Foot, his problems stemmed from bad driving. At Pebble Beach in mid-weekend Mickelson said, Im honestly driving the ball the best Ive ever driven it.
Which makes it easier to forget how trying the format at the AT&T can sometimes be. Jim Furyk, ranked No. 2 in the world, was tied for the lead after 36 holes. Then the weather turned for the worse Saturday and his round lasted six hours and 40 minutes. I dont care if the sun is shining, Furyk said after a tortuous 76. You could shoot me.
Even comedian Bill Murray was somewhat subdued much of a week in which the spotlight belonged mainly to Mickelson. Murrays best moment? Probably Saturday at Pebble Beach when he surprised a woman outside the ropes by stealing a kiss. On the lips.
Murray missed his next putt and blamed the woman. Shes too hot, Murray said, massaging his mouth. I got second degree burns.
Kevin Sutherland, who won the Match Play at La Costa in 2002, birdied the 72nd hole to edge rookie John Mallinger by a stroke for sole second place. Mallinger, meanwhile, hung in all four days and finished third ahead of Davis Love III and Greg Owen. Furyk tied Corey Pavin for sixth.
And, no, it didnt have to be You. But it was. Mickelson and amateur partner Harry You, the CEO of consulting firm Bearing Point, won the pro-am portion of the event.
You is a Harvard grad. Mallinger is graduate of the 2006 Q-school (all three stages) who shows terrific promise. I took some (good) stuff this week, Mallinger said. And, hopefully, Im going to grow on that.
Pavin managed to stay bogey free for the last 38 holes of the tournament. The 1995 U.S. Open champion is still a master of shaping his golf ball and controlling its trajectory. The fact that Pebble Beach measures a relatively short 6,816 yards works in the diminutive Pavins favor as well.
Mickelson has now won 30 PGA TOUR events which ties him for 16th all-time in that category with Leo Diegel and Vijay Singh. Singh, by the way, now leads the nascent FedExCup points race.
The rust is officially off now for Lefty, who will make it five straight weeks in the field at Riviera and six at the Match Play.
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