Phil Mickelson is the player to watch -- and to beat -- in the final round at Riviera. With a four-shot lead on a course where he won last year and finished second two years ago, Mickelson would have to suffer a complete collapse to not claim his first title of 2009. Two range sessions with Butch Harmon on Saturday morning sparked him to a 9-under 62 that began with an eagle on No. 1 and continued with crisp iron shots throughout. A round of 68 or so on Sunday should be enough to give Mickelson the win and huge momentum going into the WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship and, most important, the Masters in April.
I still get a kick out of seeing Harmon in Mickelson's camp after so many years with Tiger Woods. (Imagine Woody Hayes coaching Michigan). As good as Harmon's eye is with the golf swing, he also gives his pupils confidence. From the driver on down through the bag, Mickelson swung freely and hard, feeling that the ball was finally going where he wanted it to. Let's face it. The guy was in the wilderness in his first three starts of the year. Now, he looks like a world beater. Few players can go from the outhouse to the penthouse (and sometimes back again) quicker than Mickelson. It's what makes him so fascinating. I'll be watching to see if he stacks a winning round on top of his sterling 62.
If he doesn't, Andres Romero, who is four shots back and playing in the final group, may be a player to be reckoned with. He nearly won the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie, and he won his first PGA Tour event in New Orleans last year. Romero can do it all and he thrives on the big stage. Few 165-pounders hit the ball farther. If Mickelson stumbles, Romero will be the chief beneficiary.
But this script already seems set. Woods announces his comeback. Mickelson wins LA. Game on.