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Phil Mickelson had eyes on a huge 2010, but he has yet to find his groove

PGA Player Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson had expected better than two listless showings to start the season..

February 8, 2010

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- It is not necessarily alarming, given Phil Mickelson's entertaining proclivity toward consistent inconsistency, but it is worth noting that in a year that began with such promise he has stumbled early.

The two-time defending champion, Mickelson tied for 45th at the Northern Trust Open, a week after finishing 19th in the Farmers Insurance Open.

This was to be the year that Mickelson had an opportunity to supplant Tiger Woods as No. 1 in the World Ranking, based on Woods' hiatus and the quality of Mickelson's play at the end of '09, which bred even more confidence heading into '10. The opportunity remains, but a month into the new season, he now has an extra rung to climb to reach the top.

Steve Stricker's victory in the Northern Trust Open on Sunday moved him past Mickelson in the World Ranking, into the No. 2 position.

Stricker has assembled a Tiger-like stretch dating to the John Deere Classic last July. In his last eight tournaments of '09, he won two of them and tied for second in a third. In three tournaments this year, he's had a T3, a third and a first.

Mickelson's performance, meanwhile, has not matched his optimism. His putting prowess was supposed to have been restored through his work with Dave Stockton and he was driving the ball better than he ever had, according to his swing coach Butch Harmon.

His statistics (and again, it's early) tell another story. He ranks 165th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy (hitting just 48.21 percent of fairways), 117th in greens in regulation (65.97 percent) and 130th in putting average (1.811 putts per hole).

It won't last, of course. Remember this: Mickelson is consistent only year to year, not week to week. In 12 of the last 14 years, he's won two or more tournaments, including the last six in a row.

DON'T YOU MEAN GLEN CAMPBELL LOS ANGELES OPEN?

Anthony Kim appeared on the Jay Leno Show in advance of the Northern Trust Open and referred to the tournament as the Los Angeles Open. As they would say here in television land, D'oh.

Maybe the tour needs to sit its players down for a refresher course on sponsor etiquette in the midst of a recession. Here was a missed opportunity to plug a sponsor on national television.

PREVARICATING PHIL

A week before, Mickelson denied that he was making a statement by playing the Ping Eye 2 wedge in the Farmers Insurance Open. "It's more a trial for me. I want to see if it makes a difference," he said.

On Wednesday at the Northern Trust Open, he said this: "This week I won't be playing that wedge," he said. "My point has been made."

WEDGE ISSUE AD INFINITUM (AD NAUSEAM?)

Grant Spaeth was elected president of the United States Golf Association on the same day that the USGA and Ping reached a settlement of a lawsuit the latter filed over its Ping Eye 2 irons.

What are Spaeth's thoughts about the issue resurfacing 20 years later?

"Isn't that extraordinary?" he said before politely declining comment at the behest of the USGA.

The issue continued to reverberate last week, notwithstanding the USGA's muzzle. Scott McCarron apologized to Mickelson for accusing him of cheating. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem reiterated a PGA Tour statement issued the week before acknowledging that the Ping Eye 2 wedge is a conforming club and those who use it are not cheating. And Finchem was hopeful that the issue will be resolved in the coming weeks in a manner that would disallow the wedge in question.

Only two players had them in play at the Northern Trust Open, Fred Couples and Hunter Mahan, and no one cared. Couples wasn't a factor and Mahan missed the cut.

Now, can we get back to golf?

'THIS IS THEIR CYPRESS POINT'

It wasn't, in fact, a universally popular decision to bounce Poppy Hills Golf Course from the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am rotation and replace it with the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

Poppy Hills has an advocate in Spaeth, a Northern California fixture.

"It's my impression in making the move they were not showing sensitivity to the fact that Poppy Hills is a source of great pride to lot of people in the middle class," Spaeth said. "This is their Cypress Point. To say it's not good enough is outrageous.

"Poppy Hills is a wonderful golf course, though a few things are a little goofy. It's a little bit of a slap to move it away rather than fixing it up."

Poppy Hills was always regarded as the weak link in a rotation that includes Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill and disfavored by PGA Tour players, who are expected to welcome the addition of the Shore Course at MPCC. The AT&T begins Thursday.

"I played it very early (after the 2004 redesign)," Spaeth said of the Shore Course. "It was too early to be good, but I could see it was going to be excellent."

ANOTHER ONE FOR THE AGED

The most impressive performance last week might have come from Tom Watson at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Watson, 60, tied for eighth in a strong field. Among the players he outplayed: Paul Casey (eighth in the World Ranking), Ross Fisher (19th) and Robert Karlsson (17th).

The winner dealt youth a blow too. Miguel Angel Jimenez is 46.

THORPE'S MISADVENTURE

Jim Thorpe's spendthrift tendencies were often offset by his generosity. He always knew where the race tracks and casinos were, but also where a need was. When he won the FedEx Kinko's Classic in 2005, he donated his earnings, $247,000 to his church, Crossing Community, in Heathrow, Fla. A genuine character in a game that has a dearth of them, Thorpe is nearly impossible not to like.

Thorpe's career effectively ended last week when he revealed that the PGA Tour had suspended him in the wake of the one-year jail sentence he received for tax evasion. Thorpe intended to keep playing until reporting to the Bureau of Prisons on April 1, but the PGA Tour hierarchy has denied him that opportunity, sadly.

It sure seems as though the tour is piling on. It is tantamount to a 14-month suspension, when the jail time is factored in. He owes the IRS as much as $2 million that he can't repay without working. Couldn't the tour have suspended him effective April 1?

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