Defending champion Phil Mickelson is skipping this week's AT&T Classic.
Chris Condon/PGA TOUR/WireImage
Monday, January 23, 2012

Phil Mickelsonwas playing so well at the Playerslast week, and has such a good record at this week's {C}AT&T Classic at TPC Sugarloaf{C} (three W's, last year by 13 strokes), it seemed well within the realm of possibility that the surging lefty might take advantage of a little-used Tour bylaw and parlay his Sawgrass victory Sunday into a late entry for Sugarloaf. How could he lose? It seemed he would be almost guaranteed to prevail, guaranteed to pad his FedEx Cupand World Rankingpoints, to edge closer to Tiger, to fatten his bank account by another $972,000.

Alas, he didn't enter. Maybe the Sunday night victory party at the beach-front home of his lawyer Glenn Cohen took the starch out of him. Maybe Mickelson missed his wife Amy, whose absence was hard to miss last week. (She'd been at a friend's wedding, Phil said after flying solo for the first of his 31 victories.) Or maybe Mickelson won by such an absurd margin last year he figured it wouldn't be sporting to do it again.

The fact is the AT&T, formerly the BellSouth, has moved from the week before the Mastersto the week after the Players, seriously undermining its field. Even with the strange inclusion of AT&T-endorsed Raymond Floyd(and his son, Robert), and Floyd's fellow Champions tour mainstay {C}Larry Nelson{C}, the tournament is notable less for who's in than who's out.

Jose Maria Olazabal, runner-up for the last two years: Not playing.

Retief Goosen, who last year notched a T4: Not playing.

Even past champion Ben Craneis out, sidelined with a bad back, not that his presence could have saved the tournament.

All of which puts the AT&T in the strange position of having less sizzle than the Nationwide tour's offering this week, the BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs. That celebrity pro-am will feature, among other luminaries, Kevin Costner, John Elway, Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull, but that's not even the best part.

In a sign that the Champions tour outreach program knows no bounds, the field of pros includes Gary Player. (Hey, you never know, that guy could have PGA Tour-caliber game.) Still, the AT&T is a Tour event, on a Tour-quality course, with a mostly Tour-quality field. Tim Clarkand Rory Sabbatini, who showed flashes of solid play at Sawgrass, are in Atlanta. Georgia Tech alumni Stewart Cink, Troy Mattesonand Bryce Molderare playing. Cink's ski buddy Zach Johnson, too, is in the field. Johnson won at Sugarloaf in 2004 and finished second (albeit by almost two touchdowns) to Mickelson last year.

Yes, we'd love to see more of Phil-and-Butch's metamorphosis-in-progress. We'd love to see 1998 AT&T champion Tiger Woods, for whom the most exciting new development is not hitting fairways but wearing sunglasses in competition. (Woods recently revealed he had laser eye surgery for the second timethe Monday after the Masters.)

But all of that will have to wait until the Memorial. For now we'll just keep an eye on Johnson, the Georgia peach, whose only two Tour victories have come around these parts. A Cink or Johnson victory would help the AT&T, but the telecom tournament with the unfortunate date may still get a strange new reaction from fans, a non-response, actually: a busy signal.

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