AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE new-look Phil Mickelson returns to California to defend the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am title he won last year. On the cusp of being eligible for the Champions Tour, Mickelson is fitter than he has ever been and is hitting ball further than a 49-year-old has any right to expect.
At an age where most tour professionals experience a dramatic fall-off, Mickelson has shed a huge amount of weight and clearly still has the game to maintain his high standards. He recently told David Feherty that he still believes he is destined to win the US Open, the only major title to elude him, and a tournament in which he has finished runner-up on a heartbreaking six occasions.
“It’s a lot more work and effort to play at this level now,” Mickelson says. “I have believed for some time that if I play at my best, it will be good enough to win tournaments here. The challenge is getting myself to play my best. It’s a lot more work off the course, it’s more time in the gym, it’s more time eating, it’s more time focusing – it’s all these things that go into it, and so it’s very gratifying to see the results and to finish it off the way I did.”
Historically, noted Mickelson, players in their 40s see two things decline – putting and swing speed. His goal was to avoid both problems, and thus far he’s been successful.
Mickelson ranked ninth in Strokes Gained: Putting in the 2015-16 season but was 13th last season. “The best it’s been in my 25, 28-year career,” he said of his putting. He’s also made a dramatic improvement in his swing speed. Three years ago, he ranked 91st in clubhead speed at 114.24 mph. He arrived at Pebble Beach last year ranked 13th at 121.68. In the final round, he averaged 118.656 mph, which was sixth in the field. The swing speed has given him extra distance and increased confidence off the tee, although he still misses more fairways than he hits. But that has always been the case.
“It’s not really a secret,” Mickelson says. “It was nine months of hard work, and then overnight I was swinging six mph faster. It was biometric swing studies of my swing, taking weaknesses and making them strengths. It was time in the gym. It was a whole workout process. It’s been a lot of work, but it has been worthwhile.”
He says that he knew he had no choice if he wanted to compete. “Any athlete, as they get older, has to be smarter with how they treat their body,” his brother Tim said. “Whether that’s nutrition, how they stretch. You look at guys in other sports – Tom Brady, Phil here, other golfers too. They have to in order to keep up.”
Of course, it helps that this tournament, and especially Pebble Beach Golf Links, is a great fit for Mickelson. His five AT&T Pebble Beach wins matches Mark O’Meara for most in tournament history, and he now has 14 wins in his native state.
His ability to navigate the course serves him well in key spots. He knows he can miss way left at the sixth hole in order to avoid the water – which he did in the final round 12 months ago when he knocked his tee shot off the dome in the grandstands. And on his approach at the par-four 13th, he opted to chase a low seven iron to the pin instead of trying to spin back a wedge to a pin located on high ground.
After he parred the 17th and took a three-shot lead to the final hole he played conservatively off the tee with an iron but still birdied the hole after a great approach from 138 yards finished inside seven feet. The final birdie left him at 19 under, with a career total of 149 under since his first win on this course in 1998.
Asked if Pebble Beach was the best course on Tour that suits his game, Mickelson said: “I would have a hard time arguing another course does. Maybe Augusta.”
But not even Augusta National can match Pebble Beach in terms of the Mickelson family’s legacy. At Pebble Beach Mickelson carries a silver dollar from the year of his grandfather’s birth as a ballmarker. His grandfather was one of the original caddies when the course opened in 1919. As they walked toward the 18th green, Phil showed his brother Tim, who was caddying for him, the silver dollar. No words were exchanged. They knew how much it meant for the family. “This really is a special place for me,” Mickelson said.
This is a horses for courses venue, and for that reason you can be sure that Dustin Johnson, another multiple winner at Pebble Beach, will be there or thereabouts. The tournament is played over three courses, with the final round being played at the iconic Pebble Beach and the good news for Jordan Spieth is that the rough is not punishing - the set-up on all three courses has to be fairly gentle because of the amateurs who feature here. Spieth’s big problem has been finding fairways, but he will get away with that here.
Paul Casey. Still hitting the ball beautifully
Phil Mickelson. Just adores this place
Dustin Johnson. Made for his game
Paul Casey. Ready for another victory
Phil Mickelson. Still hitting the ball miles
Dustin Johnson. His favourite venue
Patrick Cantlay. On the cusp of greatness
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Class act
Jordan Spieth. This could be the week he breaks through again
Brandt Snedeker. In magnificent form
Matt Kuchar. Just keeps grinding it out
Kevin Kisner. Still hugely underrated
Kurt Kitayama. Looking to turn European Tour form into success on home soil
For our weekly betting odds in partnership with Betway visit here. You can also get all the latest golf tips and odds direct from the Betway.com website. All odds correct at the time of posting. Bet the responsible way.
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