Northern Trust Open round three: Three defeats in a row for Mickelson? Unthinkable!
The golfing gods left Phil Mickelson to his own devices Saturday, which at least means we have the vestiges of a competition on day four. This is now widely taken to be a virtual match play, quite appropriate given next week’s little shindig in Tucson.
Lefty is obviously the heavy favourite with his one-shot advantage over the intrepid Jeff Quinney. The market has already made its mind up, pricing Mickelson at 1.4 to Quinney’s 4.4. But hold on a minute, that’s not as resounding a vote of confidence as you might think. To put it in perspective, Tiger Woods was 1.6 when he was two shots behind in round one of the Buick Invitational. Not quite so confident then.
The market must know Mickelson is 18 from 25 for winning from a 54-hole lead. But one of the upsets was on this very field last year, and his golf is still very patchy, like an audition for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Face it, when the going got tough on Saturday - harder pin positions, firmer greens and the first troublesome wind Lefty’s faced (but don’t get me started on the weather or we’ll be here all day) - he let a 4-shot lead slip to 1.
You could argue that Quinney got lucky with his ace on the sixth, and that while Mickelson was at least keeping his head and firing another under-par round, most of Saturday’s challengers were playing lead roles in a film about hara-kiri. The Riviera seems to delight in setting players up just to knock them down again. Statistically speaking the course played as hard Saturday as it has all week: on a like-for-like basis scores were only marginally better than the windy awfulness of Friday morning.
Quinney rather fell to pieces as last season wore on, but he had a splendid run of west coast results, better in truth than this year. One of those was the FBR open, where he actually held the lead over rounds two and three. He didn’t disgrace himself on the Sunday, firing a handy 68. Trouble was two others fizzed past him with 64 and 63 (Aaron Baddely and John Rollins, who interestingly is in today’s final threesome). But at least it shows he has the capacity to keep his head, which I suspect is what it is going to come down to.
In pure golfing terms Quinney wins hands down: he has found more greens than Mickelson, his putting and distance play are on a par, and he managed to find far more fairways. He has also been a model of consistency all week. which is the last thing you can say about Lefty. So like the market, I harbour doubts about Mickelson’s ability to get the job done.
But in the end I’m going to be as daft as I was last week and go for him to win. It’s too much to imagine that the next best thing to Tiger Woods could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory twice in the space of three weeks and miss the cut in between.
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