AT&T Pebble Beach preview: Time for Phil Mickelson to deliver
Over the last two weeks Phil Mickelson’s golf has veered from the sublime to the ridiculous. A quick look at his stats suggests he’s still a long way off the top of his game. But there isn’t much ridiculous about the 6th and 2nd places (first in regular play) he has earned in that fortnight. Tiger Woods it ain’t, but it’s emphatically the next best thing.
No surprise then that he is the hot pick for a tournament where he is the defending champion and three-time winner. Lefty loves Pebble Beach in the way Tiger loves Torrey Pines and must really fancy his chances this week.
Mickelson will know better than anyone, though, that he must improve with his irons. Length is not a problem on these three courses but you need your wits about you to hit the small greens and Lefty looks a bit weak in that department. In fact in every key discipline he doesn’t rank higher than 46th (putting) even in this relatively weak field.
So who’s he got to beat?
Jim Furyk: He’s been going backwards this season, but if he’s going to get in the groove it might as well be here, where he’s had a couple of top tens already. His iron play is in good enough shape to make him a strong factor.
Mike Weir: The heat has gone after the promising start at the Mercedes. But, like Furyk, if there’s a tournament to reignite the flame it’s this one, where he’s been top ten five times since 2000 and top five three times. Both his GIR and putting stats are in fine fettle.
Padraig Harrington: He only has a 30th place to show in this tournament and since this is his season opener there’s no way on earth I would back him. Same goes for Davis Love III, who is attracting much excitement with his return from an ankle injury. Sure he’s won this twice, but I need to see a bit of his post-injury game before I put any hard-earned on him.
Justin Leonard: Is this where he stops frustrating me? Ignoring the demons who say enough’s enough, I still go with the stats that say his game is tailor made for these tracks. He’s top five for putting, finding greens and accuracy off the tee. He’s had three top tens out of four this season. Quite what last Sunday’s 77 was all about I don’t know. Come on Justin!
Vijay Singh: This will surely tell us if the growing doubts about his game are well-founded. He’s won here, come second twice and notched two other top 10s (plus an 11th) since 2000. But this season’s disappointments were capped by last week’s missed cut. That will have stung him and he’s certainly got the irons to do well here. It’s the rest of his game that’s so off and he might as well leave his putter at home and try to blow the balls in.
Daniel Chopra: He’s got three top 20s in a row here, but has gone dramatically off the boil since winning the Mercedes. Still, his stats suggest he can at least go close again.
Hunter Mahan: A lot of people seem to be excited about him and he is top 20 in his last two visits. But he missed the cut last week and the quickest of glances at his putting figures has me quoting Amy Winehouse: ‘No, no, no’.
Based mainly on their good iron work, and handiness with the flat stick, there are a few others I’ll be watching. In no particular order they are:
Charlie Wi: The Korean upstaged his fellow countryman K J Choi with a very solid performance last week and he ranks 19th for greens in regulation and 5th for putting in this crowd. In fact all round he’s no higher than 40th.
Robert Gamez: 11th place three years ago shows he can do it and, like Wi, is currently boasting some tidy stats that helped him to 16th at the Hope Classic (which you will immediately spot is a similar pro-am format). Could at least be a trading opportunity.
Steve Elkington: Distance off the tee is his only problem and that should not trouble him here. With 5-13-4 so far this season I like the look of him. The only negative is his lousy record here in the past.
Kevin Sutherland: Not quite such exciting stats, but its only a mater of degrees and he was second here last year and 4th last week.
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