Can Lefty make it a double?
By Neville Leck Last updated: 8th February 2013
Phil Mickelson, written off by most people who like to bet on golf as a potential winner at TPC Scottsdale last week, surprised us all and won. The question now is can he win again this week?
The 42-year-old American seems to be full of surprises as he eases into middle age, so answering that question correctly isn't easy.
Take his performance in the Farmers Insurance at Torrey Pines in San Diego, the home-town growing up, two weekends back.
He had won the event three times and had picked up 10 top 10s in 23 appearances at Torrey Pines, one of them in the runner-up spot as recently as 2011. Certainly bookmakers like Paddy Power had him down as a serious contender.
Was he? Surprise, surprise. He finished in 52nd place some 14 shots off the pace playing the kind of lack-lustre golf that saw most of the critics write him off for last week's Phoenix Open.
And this despite taking into account that the Stadium Course was another where he had won before and which held good memories for him.
Again he surprised, but this time it was a surprise of a totally different kind, this time he came charging out of the previous week's doldrums to win his 41st PGA Tour title by all of four shots from Brandt Snedeker, the reigning FedEx Cup champion and one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour right now.
This week the always-smiling Mickelson will be playing at Pebble Beach, another Californian venue that has brought him plenty of fame and fortune.
The defending champion at the event has not only won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am a total of four times, but he is also the event's number one money earner and as recently as 2010 tied for 4th in the US Open won at Pebble Beach by Graeme McDowell.
So what kind of surprise can we expect him to spring this time. Can he match last year's victory when he came from six strokes back at the start of the final round to shoot an eight-under 64 and win by two strokes?
Or will last week's glory have taken so much out of him that a difficult, back-to-back double this week is out of reach.
Nobody seems to be sure and I don't think even Mickelson himself knows what to expect, but I do believe that Snedeker, the man he held off at TPC Scottsdale last week and who also finished as the runner up to Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines the previous week, will once again be one of his fiercest competitors.
Another might well be Dustin Johnson. Not because of the distance the tall American gets off the tee - at 6,816 yards, the Pebble Beach Golf Links is the shortest course on the PGA Tour - but rather because of his ruthlessly efficient record at this scenic Monterey Peninsula sea-side venue where he has won twice (2009, 2010) and has crafted another three top 10s in six career starts.
Two of those came in the Pebble Beach National pro-am (2008, 2012) and the third in the 2010 US Open where he tied for 8th.
It should also help that he has already been a winner on the Tour this year, having won the season-opening Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
In the meantime, Ireland's three-time major winner Padraig Harrington looks as if he might be the off-shore invader who most spells danger to an American victory.
Harrington is coming off a tie for 9th at TPC Scottsdale and so far this year has looked a lot more effective than he has been in a good while. Perhaps he's gearing up to start winning again
And don't be too surprised if South Africa's Tim Clark also features high on the leaderboard.
The Pebble Beach Links course, which like Spyglass Hill and the Monterey Peninsula Country Club's Shore Course where the first three rounds of this week's Pro-Am are to be played before the final round goes back the Pebble Beach Links after an unusual 54-hole cut, are all among the shortest on the Tour and might have been tailor made for Clark who hits the ball straight, rather than far.
And with the stats showing that accuracy rather than distance is key, it is noteworthy that last year when par-72 Pebble Beach averaged 71.857 strokes per round, it was only the second time in seven years that the field had averaged under par.
In other words, it is no pushover. Spyglass Hill can stretch to 6,953 yards, the longest of the three co-hosts, but it is, nevertheless, the fourth-shortest par 72 of the 20 used in non-majors in 2012.
Yet it is not easy either. In the last 14 years, it's checked in under par only once (71.603 in 2010). Monterey Peninsula Country Club's Shore Course is the second shortest par 70 course on Tour at 6,838 yards. It is also the easiest of the three in play at Pebble Beach this year.
It's Shore Course has averaged under par in each of the seven years it has been in use with last year's scoring average of 69.883 being its highest in recent year.
And what all this means of course is that Pebble Beach is a place where the best stroke-makers flourish, if they are able, as always, to match stroke play excellence with putting of a similar quality.
And this week wind and fog are not expected to be a problem.
There might be a trickle of light rain on Thursday and Friday, but nothing that matters it seems, because the reliable Golfweather.com has given each of the four days four out of five stars.
Neville Leck Blog
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