The last time Phil Mickelson played 72 holes on the PGA Tour, at the Players in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., a woman wore a matching "GO PHIL" T-shirt and cap as she followed him around on Thursday. Two other fans sported identical, white, short sleeved tops with this message printed on the back: "From New Brunswick, Canada to see Phil Mickelson."
That the popular lefty ended up winning was the best possible storyline, given his new allegiance with Butch Harmon and the seemingly limitless potential of that partnership. Mickelson planned to play the Stanford St. Jude Championship this week, bringing buzz to Memphis, Tenn., but he pulled out Tuesday with the injured wrist that kept him from completing a single round at the Memorial.
He'd wanted to play Memphis, he said, because he likes playing the week before a major. Players know momentum is everything, as evidenced by Mickelson's BellSouth-Masters double in back-to-back weeks last year.
But do the results the week before a major have any bearing on the major itself? Was Mickelson's example an aberration or worth keeping in mind as we watch the doings in Memphis?
Answer: Forget about using Memphis to predict Oakmont, if you believe the results of the last four majors and the tournaments leading up to them.
Tiger Woods doesn't even compete the week before a major, no matter the tournament. And history is full of major champions with mediocre results leading up to their big moment, and winners of regular Tour events who disappeared in the spotlight the next week.
Take this year's Masters. Adam Scott was on a high after winning the Shell Houston Open, but he tied for 27th at Augusta, where the unseasonably cold conditions negated even the advantage of being one of the best players in the world. Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer seemed perfectly positioned for a run at another green jacket after a T9 in Houston, but the steady German missed the cut at Augusta.
Going back to last August, Shaun Micheel finished a ho-hum T46 at the International the week before the PGA Championship at Medinah. But somehow, some way, Micheel caught fire outside Chicago and inexplicably finished second, behind Woods, for his best finish by far since winning the 2003 PGA.
Going back even further, Chris DiMarco's game was a mess heading into the British Open last July. He'd missed the cut in his last two starts, including the John Deere Classic the week before he was to play at Hoylake. Then he made a stirring Sunday charge, scorching the bone-dry Hoylake course to finish second behind Woods and secure his spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Geoff Ogilvy tied for 31st and 18th at the Memorial and Barclays Classic, respectively, before winning the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in June.
In other words, what happens in Memphis stays in Memphis; the Stanford St. Jude should be taken on its own merits, not as tea leaves for Oakmont. Which is not entirely a bad thing.
As it turns out, even with the absence of Philly Mick, Memphis is chock-a-block with good players. Ogilvy and Vijay Singh headline, but there are several other guys to keep an eye on. Among them is Sean O'Hair, who's threatened to win the last two tournaments he's entered, the Players and the Memorial, and who easily got through U.S. Open sectional qualifying Monday.
What's more, Stanford St. Jude organizers are pulling out all the stops, including hiring Sign Boy as master of ceremonies for the pro-am party Tuesday night, adding to the overall positive vibe this week. The host course, TPC Southwind, is no longer the cupcake it once was, with recent renovations leading to considerably firmer greens.
Next week's Open is beginning to look like one of those rare majors that'll be won by neither of the game's two reigning giants, one of whom (Mickelson) may be more injured than even he knows, and the other (Woods) apparently in the throes of a mini-slump. That would seem to present an opening for a handful of players in the field in Memphis, who could get on a roll and be lined up perfectly for a major breakthrough at Oakmont.
It's a nice idea, anyway. Reality is almost never so tidy.