HONOLULU – Any new year can start with an old question: What will Phil Mickelson do next?
He’s already thrown a change-up into his schedule – starting his year in a different desert when he tees it up this week in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship before returning to San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
He likely will skip the Match Play Championship again. The curve ball is Mickelson’s intention of skipping Riviera to play the Honda Classic.
Mickelson last played the Honda Classic in 2002 when it was at TPC Heron Bay. It now is at PGA National, a typical Florida resort course with water on seemingly every hole. He has played Riviera the last seven years, with two wins and two playoff losses.
What really excites Mickelson is a new driver Callaway Golf made for him.
Mickelson was at his best with a 3-wood – think back to the 17th at Muirfield, two key shots that led to a claret jug. He says Callaway has used the same technology in that 3-wood and used it for a driver.
“That lowers the spin rate and allows me to drive it much penetratingly through the air, a lot straighter and I’ve never driven it this well,” he said Tuesday in Abu Dhabi. “That’s why I’m so excited about this year. If I can take that weakness and turn it into a strength, the other areas of my game have been as good as they’ve ever been. And I’m excited about what 2014 could lead to.”
It’s rarely dull with Mickelson.
HUDSON AND HARRIS: A new season means new faces on the PGA Tour, such as Hudson Swafford.
Or was that Harris English?
The two former Georgia Bulldogs and residents at Sea Island have been mistaken for each other dating to their junior golf days. Both are 6-foot-3 with a languid walk, smooth swing, gracious manners and an easy smile. And they’re best of friends. English was late getting to Hawaii because he was in Swafford’s wedding on New Year’s Eve.
“Larry Penley was the best,” Swafford said, referring to the Clemson coach. “I don’t think he knows Harris English exists. It was always ‘Hudson’ to me and him.”
Swafford is two years older, so it was English who most often was called by the wrong name. That’s changed in the last few years, especially around Sea Island. English won twice last year and is in his third year on tour. Swafford, always the big brother to English, is a rookie.
“Around Sea Island, I’m Harris now,” Swafford said.
HIGH ROLLER: Pat Perez might not face greater pressure all year than the final day of 2013.
He got engaged to his girlfriend of two years, Ashley Pendley, on New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas. Typical of Perez, this was no ordinary engagement. He was going to a private party at the MGM Grand, where Stevie Nicks was to perform. Perez persuaded MGM officials to give him the stage before the show. All they said was to be ready.
“It was for all their high rollers – and me. Their $280 million in credit and my $500,” Perez said. “So they call me. There’s 2,000 people in there, and I’m hammered. I know a lot of the MGM guys, and they were giving me fireball shots at 8 o’clock. I’m getting nervous now. I get the microphone and I call her. They walked her over, I somehow get it out and I drop (to a knee), and they go crazy.”
She said yes. Perez knew that. After all, Penley picked out the ring.
The entire setting has a diameter the size of a dime. Perez said the centre was 6 karats, and the entire ring was 11 karats. He declined to say a price, only that “it’s more than this bag is worth” as he pointed to his golf bag.
The wedding is planned for the end of the year, depending on how his season goes.
LONG TRIP PAYS OFF: Robert Streb figured he would be an alternate in the Sony Open, but he bought a ticket to Hawaii, anyway. It was freezing in Kansas City, Mo. He could always try to Monday qualify. And there were worse places he could be.
Streb wound up in the right spot.
He was the second alternate when the final field was announced. He missed out on Monday qualifying by two shots. But the first alternate, Shawn Stefani, chose not to fly to Hawaii from Houston. And when Hideki Matsuyama withdrew after the pro-am, Streb was in.
“I just figured I’d hang around and see if I got lucky,” Streb said. “And I did.”
Stefani can’t be faulted. As a rookie, Carl Petterson was the first alternate when the field was set. He waited three days, up until the last group teed off Thursday, and headed to the airport.
“It’s obviously a lot of money and time to come out here,” Streb said. “If you don’t feel you have a good chance, it’s perfectly understandable.”
Streb closed with a 73 to tie for 68th, earning three FedEx Cup points. That’s not much, but keep in mind that a year ago, Streb missed out on the playoffs by 10 points. Without full status, he hopes to get 15 starts this year, including Monday qualifying. If that doesn’t go well, he’ll try some Web.com Tour events.
UP FOR ELECTION: Jason Bohn, Charley Hoffman and Kevin Streelman are on the ballot to join the PGA Tour policy board.
The tour named its 16-man Player Advisory Council for 2014, which advises and consults the policy board and Commissioner Tim Finchem on various issues. Among the newcomers to the PAC is Lee Westwood, who rejoined the two years ago. His selection is noteworthy as one of the PAC member selected by the players on the board.
The players on the board chose Bohn, Hoffman and Streelman to run for chairman of the PAC through an election that ends after Pebble Beach. Whoever is elected will serve a three-term on the policy board starting in 2015.
The rest of the PAC includes Stewart Cink, Ken Duke, Trevor Immelman, Matt Kuchar, Scott Langley, Marc Leishman, Davis Love III, Will MacKenzie, Geoff Ogilvy, Michael Putnam, Webb Simpson and Brendon Todd.
DIVOTS: Mark Loomis returns to golf as the co-ordinating producer for golf production and studio programming at Fox Sports. His experience should come in handy when Fox begins its 12-year deal with the USGA to broadcast the U.S. Open and the rest of its championships. Fox currently does not broadcast any golf tournaments. Loomis previously worked for ABC when it covered PGA Tour events. … The Champions Tour gets underway this week on the Big Island in Hawaii with the Mitsubishi Electric Championships open to winners the last two years, senior major winners the last five years and eight special exemptions. The exemptions went to four major champions, along with Esteban Toledo, Mark Wiebe, Willie Wood and Kirk Triplett. Vijay Singh did not get an exemption. … Rory McIlroy plans to play the Scottish Open this year the week before the British Open.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Seven of the eight winners on the PGA Tour this season have shot 66 or better in the final round. The exception was Ryan Moore, who closed with a 70 and won a playoff in Malaysia.
FINAL WORD: “I feel like to play well in the Masters and U.S. Open it’s important to start the year right and get in contention, because you don’t want to be in the final group on Sunday of a major having not been in that position earlier in the year.” – Phil Mickelson.