Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mickelson in prime position to end victory drought at Pebble Beach

Phil Mickelson will head into Sunday at the 2016 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am gunning for PGA Tour victory No. 43.
Phil Mickelson will head into Sunday at the 2016 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am gunning for US PGA Tour victory No. 43. ( Getty Images )
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Different in so many ways from your weekly US PGA Tour show, the AT abd T Pebble Beach Pro-Am takes some getting used to, and it easily tosses players out of their comfort zones.
But given that Phil Mickelson’s won it four times and has played in it on 19 occasions, one would have to suggest that he has the show figured out. If you didn’t think so before this year, Saturday was perhaps definitive proof that Lefty’s formula works, because while the afternoon winds and crowd frenzy created trying conditions on the back nine at Pebble Beach, he was going about his tidy work in solitude on the front.
Not that Mickelson seemed overly impressed with his bogey-free, 6-under 66, mind you. Yes, he pushed to 16-under 199, and OK, he leads by two over Hiroshi Iwata. 
“But I didn’t strike it maybe as well as I had the first couple of rounds,” Mickelson said. “But I was able to get a lot of up-and-downs and make a lot of pars.”
Mickelson’s prowess with the short game was at its best on the par-5 18th when, after laying up too far right, he was blocked out by a massive tree and could only run a low pitch shot through the green to the back fringe.
Naturally, he pitched in the next one.
Now the fact that the 18th was his ninth hole speaks to a Mickelson philosophy that serves him well at the AT and T.
In love with the tournament, he’s not a big fan of the “celebrity rotation,” and, in fact, just two years ago Mickelson didn’t even play Pebble Beach on Saturday. He played at Spyglass Hill. And in one of his four wins here, in 2007, Lefty was again over at Spyglass on Saturday.
So it came as no surprise that the way things worked out, Mickelson’s third-round draw at Pebble Beach on Saturday had him playing the back nine first. True, you have to play ‘em all, but getting the back nine in the morning and being accompanied by a corporate executive, John Veihmeyer, as opposed to a Hollywood icon such as Mark Wahlberg or a musical superstar like Justin Timberlake when you run through the celebrity-crazed crowds at 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 is conducive to Mickelson’s style.
There’s also this — the scoring holes at Pebble Beach come at you early. The gentle first, the par-5 second, the short, par-4 fourth, the soft, par-5 sixth, the wedge-in-your-hand par-3 seventh.
So there was Mickelson, having gone out in 33, throwing down consecutive birdies at 5, 6 and 7 to leap to 16 under.
It would prove too much to catch, so while Iwata was scripting a 3-under 69 at Spyglass Hill to get into second and Freddie Jacobson (3-under 68 at Monterey Peninsula) and Sung Kang (70 at Pebble) were getting into a share of third at 13 under, some notable names had their hands full playing Pebble Nos. 1-18.
Justin Rose, for instance. He birdied four of his first six holes to get into the lead, then bogeyed four of the next 12. “Phil finished, I didn’t,” Rose said, having settled in at 9 under, tied for 11th.
Others could commiserate. Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson were paired together, shot 74 and 71, respectively, and at 1 under made the cut on the number.
Defending champ Brandt Snedeker? He raced to the turn in 30, then limped home in 40, a disheartening 2-under 70 if ever there was one. Making the cut at 2 under gives him another day at Pebble Beach, but truth be told, Sunday belongs to one name.
He could match Mark O’Meara’s record for five wins in this tournament and earn career PGA Tour victory No. 43, but the bigger deal is this: Lefty hasn’t won since the 2013 British Open. Winless campaigns in 2013-14 and 2014-15 had Mickelson in the longest drought of his Hall of Fame career, but somehow, the world appears back on its axis with him in pursuit of another Pebble victory.
The thing is, though, Mickelson is a man who sticks to a formula and that means not getting ahead of himself. Having a two-stroke lead is nice. Having played very well in spots at three tournaments prior to this week is good for his frame of mind.
But only one thing will be on his mind when he tees off Sunday. “I’d love to play a good, solid round,” he said.





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