PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – You can look at it in a number of ways and digest all the curiosities, but the bottom line to each is this: It’s the most unproductive start to a season that Phil Mickelson has had since he turned pro in mid-1992.
He’s 11 tournaments into the 2013-14 campaign and the left-hander has yet to notch a top-10 on the PGA Tour. Mickelson did tie for second in Abu Dhabi, but even if you give him credit for that – and why not; it was a stellar field – he easily lags behind what he accomplished in his previous 21 seasons.
Sticking with top-10s, Mickelson has notched his first one in his first tournament of the season nine times. He has recorded that first top-10 within five tournaments 20 times. The longest it has taken him for the first top-10 is six events, way back in 1999.
By this time of the season, the second week in May, Mickelson has had an average of 4.6 top-10s. This year, he has zero.
Ten years ago, Mickelson entered another chapter in his professional golf life, the season of his first major triumph, 2004 and the unforgettable Masters. He opened that season with a victory at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, and what followed was an incredible stretch. In his first 11 tournaments, Mickelson had a Masters victory in addition to the Hope triumph, plus eight other top-10s. His only non-top-10 effort was a T-24 at Doral.
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TOUGH FINISH: A little of this, a dash of that from the closing holes at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship.
• Give the man the Clean Plate Award: Jim Furyk played the 16th, 17th and 18th holes in 12 pars at the Wells Fargo Championship.
• How demanding was that so-called “Green Mile” at the Quail Hollow Club? In Sunday’s fourth round, there were only six birdies made at those holes. Michael Thompson made the only one at the par-4 16th, then he made one of four at the 17th. Rory Sabbatini, Kevin Streelman and Mark Wilson made the other birdies at 17. The only birdie at 18 went to Jason Kokrak.
• No surprise that those closing holes ranked third-, second- and first-toughest, respectively, in the fourth round.
• The top 10 names on the leaderboard through 54 holes played 16-17-18 in a cumulative 11 over par.
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THE CINK AND THE DONALD: Stewart Cink was thrilled to hear that Donald Trump had bought Turnberry. That’s where Cink won his 2009 Open Championship. But the connection with Cink and Trump runs deeper, into Ireland, because The Donald also owns Doonbeg. That just so happens to be “one of my favorite courses,” Cink said.
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THREE’S A CROWD: Having announced a few weeks ago that The Players would adopt a new playoff in case of a tie – a three-hole aggregate using Nos. 16, 17 and 18 at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course – commissioner Tim Finchem kidded that “there will be a playoff on Sunday, I’m pleased to announce. It will involve three players; I’m just not going to tell you who they are just yet.”
In recent years, a playoff had been a sudden-death format, going back to the island-green 17th. Paul Goydos hit his tee shot into the water in 2008 to lose his playoff to Sergio Garcia, and David Toms three-putted for bogey in 2011 to falter against K.J. Choi.
Although players generally approve of the three-hole aggregate, some have wondered about whether accommodations for a possible playoff might include an earlier finish. Finchem said no, that plans still will call for a 7 p.m. conclusion to the 72-hole competition.
“If it’s a two-man playoff, we feel like we can get four to five holes in. We’d finish the first three (16, 17, 18). If it was still tied (and they went back to 17), we could get another hole or two in.”
A three-way playoff? Finchem said they could get in four holes before darkness would force an end to the festivities. And if it were still tied? The commissioner flashed a wry smile. “It would be a really good story for the next day,” he said.
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NO WORRIES: One of the selling points to moving The Players from March to May was to get it out of the behemoth shadow of the NCAA Tournament and also away from being seen as a warmup to the Masters.
Since 2007 the move has worked fairly well, but this year the tournament is up against the annual NFL Draft, which will begin Thursday night and be spread over two more days after that.
Finchem did not, however, express much trepidation.
“I continue to believe that it won’t have much of an impact on our telecast,” he said. “Most of the hoopla is around the first round (Thursday). I don’t think it’s a big deal.”