Phil Mickelson looked reborn at 42 as he and Keegan Bradley ran their record to 3-0-0 at last month's Ryder Cup, but then came Europe's miraculous final-day rally. Mickelson called the ensuing weeks some of the toughest of his career.
Now what? Does Lefty go back to the woebegone guy who looked washed up during the heart of the 2012 season, or the Hall of Famer who heated up in the FedEx Cup playoffs (T4 at Deutsche Bank, T2 at BMW) before his pleasantly surprising Ryder Cup performance? Where exactly Mickelson goes from here is one of the biggest questions at the last big tournament of 2012, this week's WGC-HSBC Champions at the Olazabal Course at Mission Hills in Guangdong, China.
"Looking back, there was some good that came from it in that I had a great couple of days playing with Keegan as a partner," Mickelson said in his press conference at Mission Hills on Tuesday. "I saw some things where I can improve, and I have this new kind of excitement and energy that Keegan has, and it's rubbed off on me and I am excited to play and work and practice."
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Whether that will be enough for the two-time HSBC winner Mickelson to collect his first tournament title since Feb. 12 at Pebble Beach remains to be seen. Although he's won this event twice, he's never done so at its new home, the Olazabal Course at the Mission Hills resort, which features 12 championship courses, has hosted more than 100 international tournaments, and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest golf complex in the world.
The HSBC is one of two tournaments remaining in which the winner will get a spot in the 2013 season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions. (Next week's Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic is the other.) The last of the four World Golf Championship events this year, the HSBC will feature seven of the world's top 10 players and six of the top 10 on the U.S. money list.
Noticeably absent are Rory McIlroy — whose relationship with Titleist will terminate at the end of this year — and Tiger Woods. The two played in a much-ballyhooed, two-man exhibition Monday. McIlroy won the match by a stroke, and both players took home hefty appearance fees.
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All that remains is for McIlroy to announce his next equipment contract, and given his friendship with Woods and the way a certain Oregon company always seems to land each sport's top man, it's hard to imagine that it won't be Nike. Rory will presumably wait until his contract with Titleist is officially over to announce his new deal.
Like Mickelson, Ernie Els also has something to prove at the HSBC. He hasn't played well since winning the British Open in July, and he is coming off an ankle injury that forced him out of last week's Grand Slam of Golf. (He sprained his ankle playing tennis with his daughter.) Bradley, Mickelson's Ryder Cup teammate, is among the HSBC's long list of marquee participants, a group that also includes top-10 talents Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker.
Langer in Schwab Cup driver's seat
Bernhard Langer has a 211-point lead over Tom Lehman heading into the Champions Tour's season-ending, 30-man Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Desert Mountain's Cochise Course in Scottsdale, Ariz. What does that mean? Langer could finish last and still win the Charles Schwab Cup, provided Lehman finishes in a two-way tie for fifth or worse, and Roger Chapman doesn't win.
Chapman can win the Cup if he wins, Langer finishes in a two-way tie for sixth or worse, and Lehman finishes third or worse. First prize is $440,000 at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Desert Mountain course, which returns to the senior tour lineup for the first time since hosting The Tradition from 1989-2001.
Despite the limited number of players still in contention for the Schwab Cup, this has been a season of parity on the Champions Tour. David Frost's sudden-death victory over Langer at last weekend's AT&T Championship in San Antonio made Frost the seventh two-time champion of 2012. The action at Desert Mountain will go a long way to determine the 2012 Player of the Year, leading money winner (Langer leads) and winner of the Byron Nelson award for low scoring average.
Short game: Nick Watney's wife, Amber, wound up carrying his clubs late in the first round of last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia after Watney's regular caddie, Chad Reynolds, suffered heat stroke. … The winner of this week's Asia-Pacific Amateur gets a spot in the field at the 2013 Masters. … Peter Hanson, who held off McIlroy to win last week's BMW Masters, could overtake the idle world No. 1 atop the Race to Dubai with a win at the WGC-HSBC. Five events remain on the European Tour's 2012 schedule. … The 40th LPGA Mizuno Classic in Japan marks the last stop on the LPGA's four-week Asian Swing. … Mark Mouland, who open-qualified into last week's AT&T Championship, tied for seventh and earned a spot in the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Fla., next February. … Joey Sindelar will have back surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. … The top five in the Schwab Cup points race will receive a $2.1 million annuity, and the winner will receive an additional $1 million.