Hard Call

Phil Mickelson lost in a playoff last week to J.B. Holmes.
Robert Beck/SI

After finishing tied for sixth at the Buick Invitational despite a respiratory infection and second at the FBR Open, Phil Mickelson is the overwhelming favorite to defend his title at this week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He won by five last year, and a successful defense this week would yield his fourth AT&T trophy.

Even Mickelson sounds like he expects to win.

"I feel like I'm starting to play better each round as the year goes on," he said after the FBR, "and I expect to improve my play next week, too."

There's only one big problem: It's hard to play golf or any other sport when you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. Just ask the New England Patriots. (As usual Tiger Woods is the exception to the rule.) Mickelson's history suggests that he's no lock to do anything. A former winner in Phoenix, he missed the cut there in 2007 before a near win Sunday.

It's Mickelson. It's golf. You just never know.

What's more, the sport abhors predictability. For every preordained Tiger win, there is a mild surprise or two on Tour (Daniel Chopra at the Mercedes, D.J. Trahan at the Hope), and every so often a guy comes out of nowhere (Boo Weekley at Hilton Head last year). There was zero suspense in Tiger's victory at Torrey Pines, and little surprise in Sunday's playoff between two former FBR champions, Mickelson and J.B. Holmes.

The Tour is due for an unexpected result.

Jim Furyk is a popular pick to win, having tied for sixth at the 2007 AT&T. Former champion Davis Love III, who is coming off ankle surgery, will make his season debut this week. So will the British Open champion, Padraig Harrington.

Mike Weir has a great record on the Monterey Peninsula and looked good at the Mercedes to open this season. Kevin Sutherland, second to Mickelson at the 2007 AT&T, is coming off a tie for fourth at the FBR.

But here's the goofiest pick of the year so far: Steve Elkington. He's 45, hasn't won on Tour in almost a decade, and had become such a non-factor that he started 2008 without a bag sponsor. His recent record at the AT&T ranges from missing the cut to not even bothering to play.

But Elk has been hinting that he's not done yet. He's coming off a 67 on Sunday at the FBR, where he tied for fourth place, and he finished tied for 13th at the Buick and tied for fifth at the Hope. He's also had at least some success at the AT&T, with three top-10 finishes. He's ripe for one more victory, his 11th on the PGA Tour, and golf is due for something weird to happen.

Trend emerged at the FBR
Chez Reavie wore an Arizona Diamondbacks "A" logo on his shirt when he landed a one-week sponsorship deal with the Major League team during the FBR Open. J.B. Holmes preened like Barry Bonds after uncorking an absolute pea in his sudden-death playoff with Phil Mickelson. And golfers up and down the PGA Tour await drug testing in early July. Yep, it's official: Golf is the new baseball.

 

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