Colonial Times

January 24, 2012

TULSA, Okla. — Phil Mickelson was just off the course Tuesday when he was asked if Southern Hills, site of the 89th PGA Championship this week, reminded him of Colonial Country Club, the cozy little track in Ft. Worth, Texas, that also features more doglegs than the Westminster Kennel Club.

"That's the first thing I said when I got out here and started my preparation," said Mickelson, who will play this week without getting a shot to numb his left wrist, a precaution he's taken since injuring himself in late May. "This course reminds me a lot of Colonial. The grasses on the greens are identical. And the grass around the greens (is) identical. There's a lot of similarities in the looks, the way the wind blows around the tops of the trees."

Southern Hills isn't a bomber's paradise. Arnold Palmer went winless in three major starts here. True to its name, the course is more hilly than Colonial. It's also longer, with the 653-yard, par-5 5th hole and the 507-yard, par-4 16th. Both courses require liberal use of fairway woods and long irons off the tees lest players knock their drives right through the doglegs. The shots had better be shaped correctly, too, in order to hold the tight fairways.

Balls driven into the rough often come out like a wet sock and usually don't find the green in regulation. Darren Clarke, Vijay Singh and Lee Westwood had trouble finding fairways during their practice round Tuesday, most notably on the 451-yard, par-4 3rd hole, when none of them hit the short grass. Then again, none of those three have won at Colonial.

Here are the players with the best record in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, as that historic tournament is now called, and how their chances stack up this week:

Rory Sabbatini
He won at Colonial in May and tied for second at the WGC-Bridgestone in Akron, Ohio, last weekend. He's got no history with Southern Hills, having missed the 2001 U.S. Open at the Perry Maxwell-designed, 71-year-old club, but Sabo should contend this week.

Steve Flesch
Flesch, 40, picked up his fourth Tour title at the Reno-Tahoe Open last weekend. He won at Colonial in 2004 and has a fair record in the PGA Championship, with five top-25 finishes in nine starts. One disturbing caveat: Flesch shot 81-69 to miss the cut at the 2001 Open, recalling Jack Nicklaus's first-round 79 at the 1994 PGA at Southern Hills. When a child asked for a ball afterward, Nicklaus replied, "Son, I don't think I have any left."

Kenny Perry
He practically owns Colonial, with victories there in 2005 and '03, and he's riding a hot streak: six top-15 finishes in his last six starts this season. At 46, Perry is a nine-time Tour winner and was runner-up at the 1996 PGA Championship. He could be looking at his last, best shot at a major.

Tim Herron
True, he won at Colonial in 2006, but "Lumpy" may have trouble in the oppressive heat this week.

David Toms
He loves Colonial, with four top-10s since 2000. Since winning the 2001 PGA, Toms, 40, has notched three more top-20 finishes in his last five PGA Championship starts. This season, he was third at the Stanford St. Jude, tied for fifth at the U.S. Open and tied for sixth at the Travelers Championship, but he missed the cut at the British Open and tied for 61st at the Bridgestone last week. He'll need to reverse course to capture major No. 2.

Sergio Garcia
He won at Colonial in 2001 and should have won the British last month. If he gets that belly-putter going again (admittedly a big if), look out.

Justin Leonard
He has five career top-10s at Colonial, and even though his game's gone south, he's only 35. A tie for ninth at the Bridgestone last week and a tie for second at the Buick Open in late June suggest he's not done yet. On this course, with the ball flying so far in the heat, his lack of length shouldn't be an issue.

Corey Pavin
Speaking of distance-challenged golfers, don't let the salt-and-pepper 'do fool you; Pavin, 47, still has it. A two-time winner at Colonial, he broke a 10-year dry spell with a W in Milwaukee last year. He's played only so-so this season but knows how to convert if he gets himself in the mix. (Again, a big if.)

Rocco Mediate
He has four top-10s and six top-20s in his career at Colonial. His back is always a question mark, but Mediate shot 66 to tie for eighth in his last competitive round, at the AT&T National over the Fourth of July weekend. Positives: He was fourth in the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills and always seems to pop up in the majors. Negatives: He's 44. And did we mention that trick back?

Tiger Woods
Woods has played at Colonial exactly once, in 1997, shooting 67-65-64-72 to tie for fourth place. He's called Colonial outdated, and Southern Hills doesn't seem like his kind of place, either. Still, Woods said he liked the layout in his press conference Tuesday, and he won the British Open at Hoylake last summer using mostly irons off the tees. He could do the same thing here. No one is fitter, which will make a difference in the heat.

Phil Mickelson
Mickelson won at Colonial in 2000 and tied for second in '01. He's been playing terribly since winning the Players in May, but he says the nagging injury to his left wrist is close to healed. "I've been able to put more time in my game now in the last week or two than I have in the last three months," Lefty said in his press conference Tuesday. We'll see.