2012 PGA Championship: 4 Reasons Phil Mickelson Will Be in Contention at Kiawah
Oh, the winds of change.
The heather near the ocean on Kiawah Island is waving expectantly.
The water washes up on the sand, releasing to a bubbly finish like spilt champagne.
The setting at Kiawah has a calmness that is far removed from so many mainland championship venues.
And this major feels different.
There is a restlessness.
There is no one dominant player leaving footsteps in the sand.
No talk about slams, trophy cases, records or heart-thumping talent.
Rory was last summer.
Bubba, that was April.
Okay, Keegan has momentum.
But this is about an urgency to fill a calendar void.
Something about the last major of the year leaves a wide gap in the calendar between now and April 2013.
The playing field has leveled, and there's a sense that at least one player is reemerging.
That player is Phil Mickelson.
Remember the left-hander from Rancho Santa Fe, California?
There is nothing cryptic about Phil Mickelson's summer that would lead anyone to believe he is ready to win on a links-style course.
But low expectations are when Mickelson seems to emerge from the mire. His typical early year success has morphed into missed cuts during his last two starts before Firestone.
From the mire might be the best way to catapult back into the conversation at a major championship.
Let's explore the four reasons Mickelson is a match to march to the Wanamaker Trophy at Kiawah.
4. the Course
This is not the Olympic Club.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah will spit out birdies like a Pez dispenser if a player is willing to gamble.
Mickelson is the most risk-reward player on the PGA Tour.
There are four par-5s at Kiawah. Depending on the wind, three can be caught by the long hitters.
That is another benefit to Lefty.
This course needs somebody that can haul back and release the driver.
Pete Dye made the Ocean Course scoreable.
Phil Mickelson can shoot low numbers better than anyone in the field.
He can ride a hot streak like a filthy gambler trying to break the bank.
He is the gambler and he has a calculating mind that will add up his lackluster 2012 season—if it does not include a major.
3. The Battle of the Wind & Sand
Mickelson's career resume looks like he loves both coasts. Anything in between is, well, in-between.
Add the coastal winds, and you get the common denominator that Lefty plays well in the elements.
Don't let his British Open resume fool you.
Mickelson can peel the ball through the wind better than anyone in the field at Kiawah.
And, when it comes to wind, nobody knows yardage adjustments better than Mickelson's longtime caddie, Jim Mackay.
And if anyone can get out of the Dye's bunkers and close to the flag stick, it will be Mickelson. His creative short game will make going for the par-5s in two an adventure in red numbers.
2. He Loves Low Expectations
Mickelson is not the favorite at the PGA Championship.
He's not the favorite to win gold in anything in London.
He's not going to have a media blitz at Kiawah.
He is going to walk in quietly, and he loves it.
His par-for-the-course, nod-the-visor-tour at Akron, Ohio, was the perfect warm-up. He can walk in the side door at Kiawah and make low numbers.
Mickelson knows the 2012 season, which started with so much promise, needs to be rekindled. His critics think his U.S. Open exit, and his result at Royal Lytham, leave Mickelson in a precarious position: To be evaluated on a late season collapse after coming out of the blocks like Usain Bolt.
1. His Pairing: He Respects Love III
Mickelson tees off at 1:40 p.m. on Thursday with Padraig Harrington and Davis Love III. It's a great pairing for him.
He is familiar with both players and will be able to see what they are doing on the course and prepare himself for the Thursday elements.
Mickelson also sits on the bubble for the Ryder Cup—currently in 8th position. He'll be paired with the captain of the U,S. team, which is kind of like playing pitch and catch with the manager of an all-star team before he picks the starting pitcher.
Mickelson will make the team as a Captain's Pick, but he doesn't want to be one. He has too much pride in his game, and his first two rounds are an opportunity to prove he belongs on the team.
He also wants to reserve a pick for Love III.