The PGA Tour swings back to California this week for four scenic days on the Monterey Peninsula.
No. 1 - Back-to-back for Phil -- Pretty much the only thing mitigating against Phil Mickelson being an overwhelming favorite this week is that it's extremely rare for a player to win in consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour. Mickelson is coming off an almost-as-rare wire-to-wire win at the Phoenix Open last week, a bit of a course correction after stumbling in his first two events of the season.
Even though the win last week automatically reduces the chances of going back-to-back, Mickelson still enters the Pebble Beach Pro-Am as the favorite. He's won this event four times and is making a bid to join Mark O'Meara as the only five-time winners of what was once known as the Crosby Clambake. He loves carving up the three scenic venues on the Monterey Peninsula and will once again play alongside amateur Skip McGee.
Paired together with Tiger on Sunday last year, Phil blew away the field on his way to a commanding win. He indicated that the victory was just the start and setup for a big year, but he was rarely in contention after Augusta. Now he enters this week off another dominating win, stating that those first two appearances were an anomaly and he's playing great golf. Buoyed by a new Callaway driver that he's raving about, Mickelson appears to be in control of his game and given his history in the event, he should be at the top of the leaderboard come Sunday at Pebble.
No. 2 - Meet the Parents -- Phil is probably the only player in the field with a better track record here than Dustin Johnson, who's won this event twice and finished in the top 10 in four of his first five years playing. But the biggest bit of news around Johnson is who he is paired with in the pro-am portion of the tournament.
Johnson will play with Wayne Gretzky, who happens to be the father of the girl he's dating, Paulina Gretzky. The pairings at this event are a mix of player and amateur requests, with some randomness sprinkled in throughout the tee sheet. This is obviously the pro-am pairing drawing the most press, as Johnson's celebrity relationship has been tabloid (and Instagram!) fodder through the first month of the season. Now he gets to play with The Great One, who's carrying an 11 handicap this week (a little high for hockey players, who are notoriously good at golf).
Along with Phil, Johnson should be near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday at Pebble. The three venues this week don't necessarily favor the bombers off the tee, but rather more precision tee-to-green players. But that doesn't necessarily apply to DJ, who has been more comfortable on Pebble than any other course since he turned pro.
No. 3 - The best in the world -- Monterey Peninsula unquestionably provides the best condensed area of golf courses on the planet. Nothing comes close. The pros will rotate on three courses this week, but there are ample options for Tour-worthy tracks in the area. Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, and the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club have hosted the event the past two years (with MPCC joining the rotation in 2010).
That rotation omits Cypress Point, which many consider to be the best course on the Peninsula -- including Pebble. This event and golf on the Monterey Peninsula were thrust back into the spotlight by Mark Frost's bestselling book The Match, a great story that provides plenty of the background behind the pro-am's roots in the Crosby Clambake. It's the perfect setting for a multi-venue tournament, a stretch that prompts broadcasters to often quote Robert Louis Stevenson's descption: "The most felicitous meeting of land and sea in creation."
While Cypress Point is the most historic course not on display this week, tournament-level layouts such as Poppy Hills, Spanish Bay, Bayonet, and the Dunes Course at MPCC will also be kept in the garage. It's an astounding embarrassment of riches.
No. 4 - "Celebrities" -- This event doesn't exactly draw the A-listers anymore, as the organizers cobble together a list of musicians, actors, athletes, and media personalities. Most prefer the setup as it changes things up and and fans can see the players alongside the amateurs, disrupting the typically stuffy and serene weekly setting. But there is definitely a dissenting faction who's sick of seeing Ray Romano and Chris Berman tee it up every year. Taking a look at the list of celebs, there's certainly a need for some fresh blood.
No. 5 - Vijay's sit-down -- Just a week after admitting to using deer antler spray, which typically contains a banned substance, veteran Vijay Singh had a meeting on Wednesday with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. Singh is facing a possible suspension, something many former pros think is the appropriate action. But as you'd expect with the typically curt Singh, there was no comment coming out of the meeting with Finchem. After withdrawing from the Phoenix Open last week, Singh has gone silent on the matter. But we still await word, and possible action, from Finchem.
No. 6 - DL3 on the shelf -- We have the first significant injury of 2013, as Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III will be out six to eight weeks after undergoing neck surgery. Like fellow veteran Singh, Love also withdrew from Phoenix last week, albeit for an entirely different reason. DLIII told Rex Hoggard of Golf Channel that the neck issue has been bothering him for months:
"I've been working around it and it's been a nagging thing for a long time. The last three months it's been more than a nagging thing, it's just been a constant annoyance and needs to be fixed," Love told GolfChannel.com.
Love had not qualified for The Masters this year and this certainly removes any shot of him qualifying or participating. Love is just over a year from being eligible for the Champions Tour, but despite his nagging injury, he's still been able to hang on the top tour in the world. Here's hoping the reduction of pain in the neck will have him back in contention by early summer.
No. 7 - Rory adds another American stop -- Rory McIlroy's propulsion to star status last year has media and fans parsing and anticipating his schedule at an almost Tiger-like level. McIlroy's European connections, and a much shorter history than Woods, make it a little more difficult to project when Rory will pop up on the PGA Tour. This week, however, he announced that he had added the Shell Houston Open to his 2013 schedule.
The event will undoubtedly serve as stateside Masters prep, something Englishman Lee Westwood typically does before the majors. The Houston Open has been the week immediately prior to The Masters, but this year, it's two weeks before with the Valero Texas Open intervening. This will be Rory's first appearance in Houston since 2010, but Wednesday's announcement has to have Finchem and the folks at Redstone thrilled.
No. 8 - Bifurcation discussion -- It seems that any controversy or argument in golf these days eventually transitions to a debate over bifurcation. The term is a catch-all for whether the rules imposed on the professional tours should be applied throughout the game of golf, including at the amateur and recreational levels. The issue came to the fore most notably when the USGA and R&A handed down their proposal for an anchoring ban. Glen Nager, president of the USGA, addressed the topic of bifurcation last weekend in San Diego, and he doesn't sound like a fan (via Golf Digest):
The argument that multiple sets of Rules are needed to accommodate players of differing skill levels is refuted by golf's long history and traditions. The history of golf is actually a history of movement toward unification of playing and equipment rules - as golfers of different abilities from myriad geographies and cultures seek to play the same sport on a national and international basis, and soon in the Olympics. Moreover, aided by the USGA, the game has long used two great innovations - multiple teeing grounds and the Handicap and Course Rating Systems - to enable people to play within their own physical abilities and yet also to compete against one another across ability levels, while playing each shot and each round by the same set of Rules. Creating multiple sets of Rules would undermine both these great traditions and the needs of modern golfing populations, as well as threaten the value and integrity of the Handicap System.
That's just a snippet of a rather long statement on why bifurcation appears to be a non-starter for the USGA. Finchem, on the other hand, has indicated that he sees areas where a different set of rules for the pros and amateurs could apply. At this point, the debate is minutia only interesting to the most avid golfers, but the impact would have far-reaching effects.
No. 9 - What will Murray do this week? -- Bill Murray is the amateur staple of this tournament, and it seems he's found a long term partner in fellow Illinois native D.A. Points. The two won the event in 2011, and the typically stoic Points enjoys having Murray with him throughout the week. Murray can certainly push the line at Pebble, but it's a welcome change. He can go off the rails and off the course at any moment. I'm not sure what he has in store for this week, but I don't think anything will beat the facial hair he is sporting:
Bill Murray's mustache is pretty incredible (Ben Margot/AP) ... twitter.com/si_golf/status...— SI Golf Group (@si_golf) February 6, 2013