Cog Ills

January 25, 2012

One of the lessons of the FedEx Cup so far is that momentum trumps history. Steve Stricker had enjoyed only aggravation at Westchester before he won there. Phil Mickelson had no record at TPC Boston but figured the place out as he went.

But that theory only goes so far. If you hate a course, you hate a course. At a certain point you just have to shrug your shoulders and move on.

Hinting at a murky FedEx sticking point between himself and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, Mickelson said Monday, after holding off Tiger Woods, that he might skip this week's BMW Championship at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club. He made it official on Tuesday.

"My frustration from this past year came from asking for a couple of things in the FedEx Cup that weren't done," he said.

In the next sentence Mickelson said the reason he would miss the BMW is because the kids start school next week, and, well, that excuse worked for Ernie Els at the Deutsche Bank.

The back-to-school excuse is cute, and impossible to argue against, and the rift with Finchem is intriguing, maybe even true, but the reality is simpler.

To borrow a word he used to describe his record vs. Woods before Monday, Mickelson's record at Cog Hill is pathetic. He tied for 65th last year, 30th in '03, 42nd in '01 and missed the cut in 2000. He tied for 35th in '98, 26th in '96, 43rd in '95, 64th in '94 and missed the cut in '93. He also tied for 38th in '92. Get it? This ain't his cuppa. That could be why he's played there only twice in the last five years.

Meanwhile Woods has won three Western Opens at Cog Hill and has finished in the top 10 four other times. Only twice in 11 starts has he not finished in the top 25. The BMW is the first FedEx Cup playoff tournament not sponsored by a bank, but Woods at Cog Hill is practically insured by the FDIC. You'd better believe Mickelson knows it, and so does everybody else.

Mickelson would have been paired with Steve Stricker and Woods in the first two rounds, and his history makes it seem likely that he would have struggled. If Woods putts better at the BMW than he did this week, he'll win. He's playing well and no one is better at picking apart his favorite tracks with surgical precision and numbing regularity.

He will reclaim FedEx pole position and order will be restored.

What's the sense of Mickelson showing up to watch that horror show? Why undo everything he just did over the last 96 hours? One of the great things about his W in Boston is that he can draw on it the next time he has to face Woods. Before Monday, Mickelson didn't have that, didn't have a pleasant memory of staring down the game's most intimidating force.

So he will miss a week. Big deal. Els returns, and the other usual suspects will be at the BMW, including Jim Furyk, who loves Chicago and is due to make some noise in the playoffs.

Mickelson will return for the Tour Championship at East Lake, where he's won before (edging no less than Woods). If he wins again, he wins the FedEx Cup, no harm done by missing Chicago. In fact, without banging his head against Cog Hill for four days, he'll be more likely to win at East Lake.

It may not be what Finchem wanted, but we've learned another lesson from the FedEx Cup, with Woods skipping New York, Els skipping Boston and now Mickelson skipping Chicago. The top guys get a bye week.