5 things: Will Lefty, Vegas get hot in cold Arizona?

Phil Mickelson during the 2010 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Phil Mickelson during the 2010 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

“Toss on the long johns and tug on the ski hats, golf fans.”

“Why, are we headed to Chicago? St. Louis? Somewhere in the Northeast?”

“No, sir. We’re off to The Valley of the Sun. Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Waste Management Phoenix Open.”

“So why the long johns and ski hats?”

“You could say because Mother Nature is showing just who is in charge these days, from coast to coast, north to south. Her reach goes further than a Robert Garrigus drive and can be as unforgiving as a Tiger Woods stare.”

“Which means what?”

photo

An icicle forms on a fountain near TPC Scottsdale.

“Which means the PGA Tour is about to tee off on the fifth tournament of the 2011 season, frost and chills notwithstanding. And with that in mind, here are five things to track in Thursday’s first round.”

1.) Freezer

Sure, from our igloos in the Midwest and Northeast, it’s hard to feel any empathy for those playing golf in Arizona, but it was so cold Wednesday that PGA Tour officials took the painful step of canceling the pro-am.

The greens at TPC Scottsdale were frozen at daybreak, but even when officials pushed the pro-am back to noon, it didn’t help. Many putting surfaces were still frozen, as were a lot of landing areas.

To allow the grounds crew as much time as possible, officials shut down the course and the practice area to players. Extreme measures, yes, but guess what? It might not be any better Thursday, when morning temperatures could be as low as 31. Though it could get into the 50s by the afternoon, Friday’s low is expected to be in the 30s again.

Which means shiver and quiver, and pass the hand warmer with that driver.

Oh, and don’t expect 36 holes to be finished by Friday evening.

2.) Crowd favorite

If this is Scottsdale, then it could only mean one thing: The lovable left-hander is in attendance.

Phil Mickelson will be making his 19th consecutive appearance as a pro in what has to be considered a hometown tournament. Heck, he even played three times when he was an Arizona State icon (dare we call him the greatest collegiate golfer ever?) and later Mickelson made the Valley of the Sun his home base.

OK, so he’s returned to his native San Diego, but that doesn’t matter to the most vocal and animated crowd in golf. Phil is their man, and he’s rewarded them with two wins and nine top 10s.

Coming off of a runner-up effort in San Diego last week, Mickelson has to be revved up to tackle TPC Scottsdale.

3.) Has Vegas ever been more fun?

We’re talking “Johnny Vegas,” though officially his name is Jhonattan Vegas, the blistering-hot rookie from Venezuela who has roared out of the gates in head-shaking fashion.

In just 11 rounds as a PGA Tour member, Vegas has gone 42 under, earned $1,248,280 and attracted endless amounts of media attention. The play alone has been impressive, but when you toss in the fact that Vegas has been doing it with a classic swing, a Ben Crenshaw-like putting talent, and a smile with more arc than his takeaway, well, he might just be the most intriguing story of the week.

You have to like the pairing for Thursday and Friday, too, because passionate supporters of golf in the Americas will smile with Vegas alongside Camilo Villegas (Colombia) and Angel Cabrera (Argentina).

4.) The Kevin Na factor

He was searching all over for a place to practice Wednesday. TPC Scottsdale was shut down and so, too, was Grayhawk. “Na-na” to Na at every turn, it seems.

But there’s good reason why the 27-year-old is chomping to play. He’s yet to win a PGA Tour event, but no place has teased him quite like TPC Scottsdale. Five starts, five cuts made, with a second, a third and a fourth.

With very little fanfare, Na has piled up $4,746,640 and 13 top 10s the last two seasons so if you remove the ear muffs, surely you can hear him knocking.

5.) Players, brush off that sense of humor

Nothing on the PGA Tour is quite like the madness that goes on at TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole. With the par 3 completely surrounded by grandstands, it is golf’s only true “arena” and what comes with that distinction is a behavior that might rankle purists, but man is it fun.

If you’re ever going to catch a quiet scene at the 16th, it might have to take place Thursday and Friday morning, with bone-chilling cold keeping the mayhem to a minimum. But come Saturday and Sunday afternoon, expect “arena golf,” with fans piling on the clever chants, the witty songs, and the crescendo of boos – depending on how effectively a player handles the hole.

No, we wouldn’t want a steady diet of this, but for one time a year, it’s not harmless, it’s needed.

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