A slow start, mixed signals, for Mickelson

A slow start, mixed signals, for Mickelson

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Fifteen of his 34 victories have come during the West Coast swing, but the fact Phil Mickelson has failed to break 70 this year does not mean it’s time for him to panic just yet.

Even so, Mickelson only has two tournaments left – the Northern Trust Open and the Accenture Match Play Championship – to avoid leaving the West Coast without a single top 10 for the first time in his 17 years on the PGA Tour.

“It’s been more challenging this year, for whatever reason,” Mickelson said after he made a daring birdie on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach to make the cut on the number. He wound up tied for 55th when the final round was rained out.

Mickelson struggled with his driver at the FBR Open and missed the cut. He didn’t hole enough putts at Torrey Pines and tied for 42nd in the Buick Invitational. And whatever progress he was making at Pebble Beach was halted with one bad swing.

Lefty birdied his first three holes and was 3 under for the tournament until he hooked a 5-iron with a left-to-right wind. The ball hit a cart path and went out of bounds, leading to triple bogey. It was his second OB in as many days – on the other one, he salvaged a bogey on a par 5 at Poppy Hills.

“I’m making dumb mistakes, a couple of squirrelly shots, I haven’t putted the best,” Mickelson said.

Lefty has won on the West Coast seven of the last nine years, and he has had at least two top 10s on the West Coast during that stretch. The two years he won the Masters (2004, 2006), he had at least four top 10s in California and Arizona.

Mickelson is coming up on the two-year anniversary of when he began working with Butch Harmon, and while he lost the summer of ’07 due to a wrist injury, there remains speculation that his two-coach system isn’t best for his game.

Dave Pelz works with his short game and supplies more statistics than most golfers can digest. The long game belongs to Harmon, who is built more toward feel.

Mickelson has been around too long to worry over a ragged start, although he is starting to grind. In the hour before Sunday’s round at Pebble Beach was suspended because of rain, Mickelson was a lone figure on the range as he went through five buckets of balls.

TOMS EXAMPLE: Over the last decade, there has been talk that some players on the bubble to qualify for a World Golf Championship would skip a tournament to improve their ranking.

David Toms faced such a dilemma last week.

He was at No. 66 in the world ranking, knowing that Pebble Beach was the final tournament before the 64-man field would be set for the Accenture Match Play Championship. If he sat out – Toms had not played Pebble since 2002 – his divisor would drop to 41 tournaments and his average points would be slightly higher.

“I know if I play this tournament and I play well, I’ll get in,” Toms said before the tournament. “That’s the way I looked at it. I was up in the mountains and I said, ‘If I finish 65th and I didn’t get in … I’d probably have that feeling that I didn’t give it my best shot.”‘

Here’s how it played out:

With the gradual reduction in points each week, Toms would have moved to No. 62 in the world had he not played Pebble. Because he missed the cut, his divisor went to 42 tournaments and he received no points, losing all hope of finishing in the top 64.

And if he had stayed home from Pebble?

Three players moved into the top 64 – Dustin Johnson, who won Pebble, and Anders Hansen and Charl Schwartzel, who went 1-2 in South Africa – so Toms would have wound up at No. 65.

Ultimately, he set a good example of players on the bubble. It’s better to play than to leave matters to someone else. Toms had a pair of top 5s this year in three starts this year, and would have needed to finish 28th at Pebble Beach.

FACT CHECK: Robert Garrigus either didn’t do the math or has been listening to one too many tales about how the world ranking is biased against Americans.

“I don’t know if you guys knew, but Kenny Perry won in Phoenix and lost two spots in the world ranking, which is ridiculous,” Garrigus said last week. “I think that there needs to be some kind of change to that because if you get the top players in the smaller events, your world ranking points are better.”

He then noted that Rory McIlroy won Dubai and went from No. 68 to No. 15.

In fact, Perry went from No. 15 to No. 9 with his victory in the FBR Open. McIlroy went from No. 39 to No. 16.

Garrigus probably doesn’t realize that the FBR Open actually offered more world ranking points than Dubai.

MIA: Anthony Kim grew up in Los Angeles and spent his last few years of high school in the Palm Springs area. But the West Coast swing will end without Kim at either of the PGA Tour stops in his hometowns.

He missed the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic with a shoulder injury, leaving Mark Calcavecchia to quip, “Has he heard of Advil?”

More peculiar is how Kim could miss the Northern Trust Open at Riviera. Instead, he is playing on the European tour for the second straight week, this time at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth, Australia.

Kim has played only twice on the PGA Tour this year, tying for second in Kapalua and missing the cut in Phoenix.

DIVOTS: Art Spander, a longtime columnist in the Bay Area, will receive the 2009 PGA Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. Spander first covered the Masters in 1967, and he has written from 120 major championships. He will be honored April 8 in Augusta, Ga., at the Golf Writers Association of America’s annual awards dinner. … The Northern Trust Open has seven of the top 15 players in the world. There were 12 of the top 15 at Riviera last year, a number that trailed only the four majors, three World Golf Championships and The Players Championship. … Renowned saxophonist Kenny G will sponsor the pro-am at the Honda Classic. As part of the deal, he also will perform on the 18th green before the winner gets his trophy.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Europe has more players (20) than the United States (17) in the Accenture Match Play Championship for the first time since it began in 1999. In the first year, there were 40 Americans and 11 Europeans.

FINAL WORD: “When I was 15 years of age and I made it onto the Irish boys golf team, I thought I was famous. My picture was in the paper. Gradually, it has crept up.” — three-time major winner Padraig Harrington.

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