Torrey Pines Takeaways: 4 Things We Learned From Last Weekend's Tournament
Torrey Pines had a little bit of everything: The season debut of golf’s two biggest superstars, the awakening of a sleeping giant and the confirmation of a brand new star – not to mention a riveting finish.
Here are some of the most important takeaways from last week’s play:
1. Phil Mickelson is back and ready to have a big 2011 season
Thought I’d start with the winner, right? Well, try again.
As great as Bubba Watson played, the biggest story was Mickelson, one of two players on the PGA Tour who can truly carry the sport. After a lackluster 2010 season following the Masters, many wondered if Mickelson’s best golf was behind him, myself included. However, with his wife and mother watching in the gallery, Mickelson appeared to have peace of mind as he displayed the talent golf fans have become accustomed to seeing from him.
Though he struggled to drive the ball accurately, that is nothing new for Mickelson. He can win playing from the rough. And win he nearly did, finishing one shot back in second place. Buoyed by a strong iron game and stellar play on and around the greens, he looked like the Mickelson of old. He was near the lead all week long and forced Watson to have a near-perfect round to beat him.
His birdies on the two final holes showed that Mickelson remembers what it’s like to succeed in contention. Even more encouraging for Phil fanatics is that Mickelson’s psoriatic arthritis appears to be under control.
The bottom line is Torrey Pines should give Mickelson great confidence heading into the rest of the West Coast swing, a stretch during which he always plays well. Don’t be surprised to see him win at least one tournament before the Masters.
2. Bubba Watson has taken his game to the next level
Though he had already won on Tour, this tournament should provide validation for Watson. He matched Mickelson shot for shot in an impressive final round 67 that came in very difficult conditions.
In the past, Watson has appeared a bit fidgety when in contention and has let some tournaments get away. That was not the case this past weekend. He appeared to be in control of his emotions throughout and made two huge putts on 17 and 18 to seal the tournament.
It is evident that Watson has been working on his putting. Watson was previously known for his ridiculously long drives, but he is becoming a much more complete player. He has a lot of natural talent and may just be scratching the surface of what he can become. Following a close call in the PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup appearance, this win may be a harbinger of good things to come.
3. Jhonattan Vegas is not a one-hit wonder
“Jhonny Vegas” has a chance to remain one of the best stories in golf throughout the year. A native Venezuelan with a hardscrabble background, the PGA Tour rookie burst onto the scene by winning the Bob Hope Classic in a playoff a mere four days before play teed off at Torrey Pines.
Instead of basking in his hard-earned win, Vegas backed it up with some outstanding play and had a chance to win up until the 72nd hole. Though he hit his difficult approach shot on 18 into the water, Vegas showed aggressiveness and intensity throughout the week. He wasn’t playing for a paycheck, he was playing for the win -- a rare attitude for a rookie.
Everything about Vegas belies his 26 years. Playing with Tiger Woods on Saturday, he was never in awe of the Woods spectacle. Instead, he bested him by five strokes and flashed some of the fist pumps we’ve come to expect from Tiger. This kid has the talent and moxie to be a fixture on Tour for years to come.
4. Nobody really knows when Tiger Woods will start winning again
Entering last week, everyone thought the aforementioned “sleeping giant” to emerge would be Woods, not Mickelson. Though his initial two rounds were solid, it was downhill for Woods after that.
Woods has often said the toughest thing to do while undergoing swing changes is put together four solid rounds. It’s difficult not to revert back to old habits and to avoid focusing on the swing instead of just playing golf. During the last two rounds of the tournament, he looked to be doing just that: thinking about his mechanics too much. He is clearly struggling with his swing and perhaps his confidence too.
Even Woods doesn’t seem to know when he will return to his best. After the tournament, he said he’s “in the process” of his swing changes, not the customary “I’m close” that he typically resorted to when discussing swing changes under his previous coach.
The week had to be especially disconcerting for Woods because of his amazing track record at Torrey Pines, which includes six wins. This continues his trend of fizzling at venues he’s previously succeeded at, dating back to Pebble Beach and St. Andrews last summer in the U.S. and British Opens, respectively.
Woods’ prospects for success are even murkier now because his schedule is somewhat unknown. In order to have a good chance at The Masters, he’s going to have to get as many competitive reps as it takes to hone his new swing.
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