Fowler, Phil, Mahan headline Phoenix field; Kaymer eyes No. 1 in Qatar

December 9, 2011

Here's a current events quiz:

Which player said he was "hitting it worse as the days went on" about his performance at last week's Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines?

If you said Tiger Woods, you're right.

You're also right if you answered Hunter Mahan, another Sean Foley pupil and the defending champion at this week's Waste Management Phoenix Open. Coming off a final-round 73 and T6 at Torrey, Mahan is trying to rediscover his golf groove after getting married last month to former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Kandi Harris.

"It's been crazy for the two months actually leading up to the wedding," Mahan said Tuesday. "We've been traveling a ton, haven't been home much, haven't had a whole lot of time to kind of get my game in great order maybe like I would like to.

"But, you know, as soon as we got through the wedding and everything," he added, "it seemed like we were both kind of taking a deep breath and were able to kind of relax a little bit and just — I was able to just to kind of focus on golf a little bit."

Whether or not one of America's best young players not named Tiger can get his groove back is but one of several intriguing subplots this week.

Another is whether a younger erstwhile Oklahoma State Cowboy, Rickie Fowler, can find his first win on one of the courses where he came close (second place) in 2010.

A year ago the big flap was whether Fowler should have gone for the green in two on the par-5 15th hole (he didn't) on Sunday. Today we simply wonder when the flashy Fowler will win already and potentially "open up the floodgates," as he put it recently.

More intriguing this week is whether or not Martin Kaymer can overtake Lee Westwood atop the World Ranking at the Commercialbank Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club, where the top two players will be playing a regular-season Euro tour event for the first time since Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer squared off at the 1993 Carrolls Irish Open at Mount Juliet. (Faldo won the tournament, in case you don't remember.)

Including Paul Casey, who won in Bahrain last weekend to end a 20-month drought, and Steve Stricker, making his first trip to the desert, Qatar will feature four of the top seven players in the world and eight of the top 20.

Coming off an obscene eight-stroke victory in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, the German Kaymer, 26, would overtake Westwood with a win if Westwood finishes outside the top two, or with a runner-up if Westwood finishes outside the top 22 (unlikely).

Still, Qatar is not a slam-dunk winner over the PGA Tour's offering in Phoenix, largely because Phil Mickelson has restored some luster to the Tour with his play in San Diego last week. The fourth-ranked 40-year-old proves he still moves the needle, helping the Farmers to roughly 50 percent better TV ratings on the weekend, year-over-year.

Mickelson will play each of the next three tournaments, in Phoenix, at Pebble Beach and at Riviera. It bodes well for Phil fans that he's won each at least twice.

As it's been doing this year, the Tour has arranged particularly TV-friendly threesomes at TPC Scottsdale, including the red-hot 10:07 ET threesome off the 10th tee Thursday: Bill Haas, Mickelson, and Farmers champion Bubba Watson.

At 2:17 of the first tee will be Dustin Johnson, Mahan, and Geoff Ogilvy, who will be making his first start of 2011 after slicing open his index finger in Maui.

Fans of the long ball can check out the 2:44 group made up of Robert Garrigus, J.B. Holmes, and Davis Love III; Latin American golf aficionados can watch Angel Cabrera, Jhonattan Vegas, and Camilo Villegas, off at 10:16.

These groupings are of course gimmicks, and the Tour would be much better served if one of a select few ratings-grabbers plays well, especially Mickelson. He could overtake Woods this week, but it's a measure of how far the mighty have fallen that Mickelson would merely be slipping into third in the world, not first.

Coming off his surprisingly underwhelming T44 at Torrey Pines, the course he used to own even with a broken leg, Woods is taking this week off in preparation for next week's Dubai Desert Classic. He has not played Phoenix since 2001, and no one knows when he will be back in more ways than one.

Tour's cell phone policy causing headaches
The Tour's new acceptance of cell phones on the course will require more fan education if it's going to work, according to security personnel who spent much of last week's Farmers Insurance Open telling spectators to turn off and pocket the devices.

Asked whether the Tour's policy was working, a grim-faced San Diego Police officer replied simply, "No."

Mobile phones are allowed for use only in designated areas, but fans along the ropes at Torrey had their cells out in force, snapping pictures of players as they walked by — as long as security didn't get to them first. "A few have gone off in the middle of guys' swings," said the officer walking with the Woods group on Sunday.

On the 15th hole alone he confronted at least a dozen fans, gently explaining the Tour's policy but confiscating the phones of those who argued. The officer told me tournament-security personnel would be sending a report on the debacle to Tour HQ.

Waste Management to unveil 'solar sky box'
Among the innovations by title sponsor Waste Management this week is to run its skybox on the 18th hole entirely on solar energy.

"No other tournament has had a box completely powered by solar energy," said Charley Hoffman, who is sponsored by Waste Management and has missed the cut in his first two starts of 2011. "I like being a part of a company that's leading in everything they're doing, and they're definitely leading the initiative, going green."

A "green-out" is scheduled for Saturday, when the Thunderbirds, who put on the tournament, will donate money to Arizona Clean and Beautiful, a non-profit dedicated to the environmental quality of the state, for every fan who shows up wearing green.

Paolucci wins hearts, but not Northern Trust invite
Anthony Paolucci, the nation's No. 1-ranked junior and an 18-year-old student at La Jolla Country Day, started the Farmers last week with three straight bogeys, but by the time he finished tied for 29th (70-71-72-72) he'd birdied his way into the hearts of many.

Someone took out space in the San Diego Union-Tribune sports page on both Saturday and Sunday to congratulate him for making the cut. An airplane flew over Torrey Pines both days, trailing a banner that also noted his accomplishment.

"He's just the greatest, sweetest kid," said Amy Mickelson, who with hubby Phil and their three kids is a fellow San Diegan. "We've played paintball with him."

Be that as it may, Tod Leonard writes in the Union-Tribune that Paolucci learned Monday he had been denied an invitation to the Northern Trust Open at Riviera in two weeks, despite penning a letter to tournament director Jerry West.

Shag bag
San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson caddied for his friend Pat Perez at TPC Scottsdale on Tuesday before returning to San Francisco. … Greg Norman has donated $150,000 to relief efforts in his native Queensland, Australia, where flooding has killed 35 people since Nov. 30. At least nine more are missing. Steve Elkington pledged $1,000 per birdie at the Bob Hope, and wound up donating $24,000. There are 22 Australians on the PGA Tour. … The R&A will launch the Women's World Amateur Golf Ranking this month. The governing body's Men's WAGR is in its fifth year.