Hate to be Rude: West Coast wonder

Phil Mickelson reacts after chipping in for birdie during the final round of the 2009 Tour Championship.

Phil Mickelson reacts after chipping in for birdie during the final round of the 2009 Tour Championship.

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Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

News flash: Professional golf’s so-called savior of the moment will make his overdue return to the PGA Tour on Jan. 28 at the San Diego Open at Torrey Pines, where he has multiple victories.

No, not him.

Phil Mickelson.

Lefty’s return can’t come fast enough for Tim Finchem and his Tigerless Tour. The good news for Camp Ponte Vedra and golf followers is that Mickelson will play in five consecutive Tour events starting in his hometown of San Diego.

The better news for buzz junkies is that Mickelson has excelled at four of those five venues. He has won three times at Torrey, the past two Northern Trust Opens at Riviera, three times at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and twice at the TPC Scottsdale. Having finished 2-1-1 in 2007-09 at Riviera, he’s bidding to become the first player to win there in three consecutive years.

A Dave Stockton putting tip seemingly turned Mickelson into a different player late last season, when he sandwiched a dominant Presidents Cup with victories at the Tour Championship and HSBC Champions.

Now apparently we’ll see a new Mickelson appearance. He’s thinner, fitter, recharged and excited after changing his exercise program and working out hard in the offseason, according to an aide who had dinner with him the other day.

• • • 

Tiger Woods hasn’t been seen in public since The Hydrant Episode on Nov. 27, at least by TMZ.com, a tabloid rottweiler or a paparazzi lens. That Invisible Man act is almost as remarkable as winning a U.S. Open on a broken leg.

I mean, the elusiveness makes Howard Hughes look like a social mixer.

• • • 

Woods is out of sight, but he shouldn’t be out of the minds of his fellow players. Let’s take Geoff Ogilvy, winner of the season-opening SBS Championship, as an example.

Ogilvy now has won seven Tour titles, from 2005 to ’10. He has 45 top 10s, a decent haul but nothing special. Yet he has won a remarkable $21.3 million in official earnings, 19th on the career list.

Though Woods isn’t the ideal husband, he is the ideal rainmaker when it comes to putting money in other players’ pockets. Purses have gone up more than $210 million since he turned pro.

While Woods catches grief from others, he should get thank-you cards with autographed checks from his brethren.

• • • 

I’m not sure how Woods will perform whenever he returns. I suspect well, considering he has won more than 50 percent of his Tour starts since July 2006 and probably will play with a large chip on his shoulder.

But I can confidently predict this: Someone somewhere in some gallery will be ushered off the grounds and you will read stories about spectator decorum, or lack thereof.

• • • 

And when will he return? The dog is wagging the tail here. He’ll return once his personal life is sorted out (read: marital closure one way or another) and he gets in enough practice.

• • • 

You can correctly surmise I disagree with Colin Montgomerie, who recently said of Woods’ woes: “I think the mystique is gone. . . . It gives us more opportunity to find ways of winning these events now, and I’m thinking of myself as well as my peers.”

Monty needs to think again. The opportunity it gives other players is the same kind Woods’ wounded-knee absence did in 2008-09.

It’s easier to win without him around.

• • • 

The current U.S. Ryder Cup points list (based on 2009 majors) features Tom Watson at No. 6 and Ricky Barnes and David Duval at T-8.

I’m no soothsayer or weatherman, but that humorous arrangement will last as long as a summer afternoon storm in Florida.

• • • 

Greg Norman and Chris Evert filed for divorce a couple of days ago. That story and the Woods mess have one big thing in common.

Ego.

• • • 

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a dozen times from veteran PGA Tour players: Young guys will have a harder time adjusting to the new grooves than veterans who have used them in the past.

So keep an eye on the kids, starting this week at the Sony Open in Hawaii, where four new members (Blake Adams, Troy Merritt, Brian Stuard and Jerod Turner) are making their first Tour start and a dozen others will make their first start as a member.

• • • 

It will be interesting to see how the money list changes as result of the new grooves. Theoretically, the new grooves will put more of a premium on driving accuracy, never a big indicator of money won.

In 2009, only two players in the top 10 in Tour earnings (Zach Johnson and Jim Furyk) finished better than 49th in hitting fairways.

Bottom line from any era: The great players always seem to figure things out.

• • • 

Six-time Tour winner Adam Scott turns 30 in July. If nothing else changes, that would leave Sean O’Hair as leading Tour winner among players in their 20s.

He has three wins.

Beneath the Tour’s top rung, there’s parity if not parody.

• • • 

That could change this year with the likes of Rory McIlroy (20) and Rickie Fowler (21) and the continued maturation of O’Hair and a few others.

Fowler, a feel player and shotmaker who learned golf on a public driving range without the aid of video equipment, makes his debut as a Tour member this week. Asked Tuesday about his expectations and goals, he said, “I expect myself to play well, whether that means winning a few events or top-10s here and there. I’ll try go out without too many expectations and have fun.”

Love the kid’s outlook and manner. Also like his confidence about his ability to control the ball and shape shots.

“Not many young guys are coming out who hit a lot of shots when they need to,” he said.

• • • 

The 2009 majors’ losses are the 2010 Sony Open’s gain. All four major winners are playing the Sony.

You probably will never read that last sentence again.

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