Can Mickelson win his first since coming out of the pine straw at the Masters?
Top-10 finishes usually signal better things to come on the PGA TOUR.
Look at Jonathan Byrd, who won his last event of 2010 with a dramatic playoff trump ace in Las Vegas. The next time he teed it up—granted, it was 2-1/2 months later—led to another playoff win in the season opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua on Maui.
Here's another example. After finishing 6th at Disney two months earlier, Mark Wilson won the SONY Open.
Get the picture?
A good finish leads to even better things a couple months later.
Not so fast.
In the 3rd tournament of the year and only his 5th start in a PGA TOUR event, rookie Jhonattan Vegas won the Bob Hope Classic after finishing T57 at Waialae. "I hope to be the best player in the world, I know it is tough to achieve but feel I have the game and mentality to do it," said the 26-year old.
Furthermore, Bubba Watson won the Farmers Open after missing the cut entirely in the Hope. And Mark Wilson rang the bell again with a playoff victory in the Phoenix Open after sandwiching a T57 between his two wins.
So much for the theory that a Top-10 finish one week is the antecedent to a win the following week.
Look at Carl Spackler, a.k.a. Bill Murray, winning the Pebble Beach Pro-Am last week.
"Cinderella story, out of nowhere, former greenskeeper, now about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a miracle—it's in the hole! It's in the hole!" It had taken Spackler over 30 years.
So what's the point?
Well, D.A. Points finished 5th at the Farmers, then T18 in Phoenix before winning his first PGA TOUR event on the sun-drenched Monterey Peninsula alongside Murray.
Finishing towards the top—sooner or later—usually means victory is somewhere out there on the back nine on Sunday when things fall into place.
What do all six 2011 winners have in common?
All are Nationwide Tour alumni.
Is it hard work under similar tournament conditions that leads those in the top 10 to win?
The NWT alumni win count on the PGA TOUR is closing in 300. D.A. Points' win on Sunday at Pebble Beach was No. 294.
The Nationwide Tour is only a little over 20 years old.
Let's say the average number of PGA TOUR events is around 30 in that period. By that figure, 50% of all victories on the PGA TOUR come from NWT alumni.
Not bad—considering in the early 90s there were no NWT graduates winning, because there was no NWT to graduate from.
Let's look quickly to last week's Top 10 finishers to see who will win this week.
Count Nick Watney out as he withdrew from the Northern Trust Open without specifying why. Watney was T6 at Pebble Beach, where it was his fifth consecutive Top-10 dating back to last year's TOUR Championship.
Hunter Mahan (2nd) finished strong at Pebble with a field best Sunday 66. A reasonable person would not bet against him this week.
Tom Gillis (3rd) came off the Nationwide Tour in 2009 and had three Top-10s in 2010. "I’m not totally satisfied with (2010). I thought I would have had more chances to win," Gills said, fitting the NWT alum and Top-10 finisher profile to a tee.
Though he has played in 5 events so far this year, Spencer Levin (T4) might try a delayed Byrd-Wilson ("happy with time off") formula to winning. "I am just going to go home, take some time off and enjoy this a little bit," said the Q-School graduate. "Then I'll start getting ready for next year."
Steve Marino (T4), who started knocking on the door early in the 2008 Open at Turnberry (before being surpassed by Tom Watson), looks poised to make a breakthrough into the winner's circle.
Aaron Baddeley (T6), who dropped the "stack and tilt" to regain his ball-striking form, also had a T8 finish in Vegas the week Byrd won. It is only a matter of time for the Aussie, who was beaten by Troy Merritt in the Kodak Challenge playoff.
Bryce Molder (T6) seems to be regaining his form after ending last year weakly missing three of four cuts.
Phil Mickelson is the obvious favorite of the four golfers who finished T9 to win for the third time as he tries to commute, weather permitting, from his home in San Diego to Riviera CC this week.
But don't dismiss Steve Bowditch, Zach Miller or Jimmy Walker this week in the land where stars are born.
There is also Paul Casey, coming off his win in the Middle East who—along with reigning Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and 11-time European champion Robert Karlsson—will be making his U.S. debut this week.
So will we see someone from last week's Top 10 win this week at Riviera?
Don’t forget defending champion Steve Stricker!
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer covering all four major American golf tours—the PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.
Reistetter resides in Pont Vedra Beach, Florida near the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida and pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it.
Please comment directly on this article or email him at AndyReistetter@gmail.com