There was one clear highlight for Phil Mickelson in 2012, other than his fine Ryder Cup play: Shooting a 64 to win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. It wasn’t just that Mickelson made up a six-shot deficit to Charlie Wi (a rough day for the Charlie Wi fan club), or that he was playing with Tiger Woods, or that it was Mickelson’s 40th win. It was all of that, plus a magazine’s cover photo the next week that showed Phil smiling as he strode purposefully ahead. Tiger, just behind him, was not smiling and in fact looked slightly ill, like he’d just heard the sound of his own voicemail.
Not surprisingly, Woods won’t be back this year, while Mickelson will be defending his title. Here are five more things I’m thinking about heading into this week’s AT&T at Pebble, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula CC’s Shore Course, where the weather forecast calls for rain and cold:
1. Phil Mickelson’s new infomercial
Not surprisingly, the consummate corporate pitchman talked up a new Callaway driver while winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open last week. Mickelson hit 32 of 56 fairways at TPC Scottsdale, which was tied for 55th best in the field. That may not seem like much, but it felt like a major leap for Mickelson. He’s 132nd in driving accuracy (52.41 percent) in 2013, and finding more fairways in Phoenix helped him lead the field in greens in regulation and proximity to the hole.
It all started with a lesson from his coach, Butch Harmon.
“So Butch came into town Wednesday morning,” Mickelson said, “and we spent an hour and 15 minutes on the range, and it was just a minor tweak, and all of a sudden the club is back on plane and I'm hitting it the way I was.”
Mickelson took 110 putts in all at TPC Scottsdale, and tied for third in putts per green in regulation. He is the defending champ at Pebble, where he’ll go for his fifth victory to tie Mark O’Meara’s total. Dustin Johnson, 28, may eventually surpass them both—he’ll go for win number three there this week.
2. Brandt Snedeker’s Pebble problems
It would be crazy to leave the 32-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., off your fantasy roster this week, right? Not necessarily. Granted, Snedeker finished third at Kapalua, T2 (behind Woods) at Torrey Pines, and second (to Mickelson) in Scottsdale. What’s more, a year after winning the FedEx Cup’s $10 million first prize, Snedeker is in pole position for the 2013 FedEx Cup with nearly $1.7 million in earnings already. He’s up to sixth in the World Ranking, ahead of Adam Scott (7), Lee Westwood (8), Bubba Watson (9), and Mickelson (10).
So what’s not to like? Snedeker’s record at Pebble Beach is underwhelming. He skipped the tournament last year, missed the cut in 2011, and finished a career-best T21 in 2010. His other three starts: MC in ’09, T58 in ’08, and T36 in ’07. If he’s ever going to turn around his middling mojo in Monterey, this is the year.
3. “Billy Ho”
Who? That would be Billy Horschel, 26, who has made 15 straight cuts dating to last season. He’s coached by Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Todd Anderson, who also helps keep Snedeker’s game sharp. A former All-American at Florida whose left wrist needed surgery in 2010, scuttling his rookie year, Horschel finished T10 at the Humana last month and T11 at the Waste Management, where he fired a third-round 64. He cites Monterey as his favorite hang on Tour.
Fun facts: In his player bio, Horschel says he carries four tees and a 1936 quarter for good luck, read all four Twilight books in two weeks, and believes in Bigfoot and UFOs. He played against Rory McIlroy three times at the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down in Ireland, which the U.S. won, thanks in part to Horschel’s 2-1 record against the future World No. 1. Alas, he also played his way into the final group with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, which didn’t go so well. “Billy Ho” shot 76-75 to finish T39.
4. “Groundhog Day” for Pebble’s shooting stars
The cut this week will come after everyone has played all three courses Saturday night, and will take only the low 60 professionals plus ties to accommodate the 25 amateurs who will also advance to Sunday’s final round.
Carson Daly tweeted a picture earlier this week of a TaylorMade Ghost Spider putter, calling it his “secret weapon.” Other celebs in the field include the usual moonlighting athletes—Wayne Gretzky, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Kelly Slater, Justin Verlander, newly retired Andy Roddick—plus the usual posse of golf-obsessed actors and musicians led by, of course, Bill Murray.
Still, the odds that Murray’s antics will wind up on SportsCenter are good, while the Euro Tour’s counter-programming, the Joburg Open, probably won’t, as it will feature Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel, but, not Rory McIlroy.
5. The walking wounded of the Champions Tour
Jay Don Blake tweeted last week that staying in shape is important, “and yes round is a shape.” But is broken a shape? Maybe it’s more of a condition but the men of the 50-and-over circuit are always bouncing back from something, especially at this week’s Allianz Championship, the first full-field event of 2013.
Rocco Mediate, who with his litany of back problems had a better PGA Tour career than anyone had a right to expect, makes his senior debut this week, as does Bart Bryant, who opened with scores of 68-67 at the Sony Open last month. Scott Hoch (left hand surgery), Joey Sindelar (back surgery) and Hal Sutton (left hip replacement) return from injuries this week, while Loren Roberts will miss the tournament as he recovers from what he believes to be food poisoning.