Commentary

Jason Sobel's blog -- CA Championship

Updated: March 14, 2009, 9:50 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

6:00 p.m. ET: Check out the 54-hole leaderboard here at the WGC-CA Championship and it appears this one is a two-horse race.

Phil Mickelson and Nick Watney share the lead entering the final round at 16-under; no other player is closer than 4 shots from the top.

The conclusion, however, is still very much in doubt. Neither Mickelson nor Watney needs to "blow up" necessarily in the final round to lose this tournament. It's very possible a score like Mickelson's third-round 3-under 69 total may not be good enough to hold off those also seeking the title here at Doral.

Let's take a look at what each contender needs to do and avoid in Sunday's final round:

Phil Mickelson (16-under 200)
Needs to ... continue the "screw it" philosophy off the tee that he's employed throughout this week. With negligible rough here at Doral, driving accuracy is hardly a major factor. By bombing driver on seemingly every hole, Mickelson has left himself with wedges into most greens on the course -- and he's such a good wedge player that this strategy should account for more birdies Sunday.

Needs to avoid ... getting cold around the greens. In the first two rounds, Mickelson averaged 21 putts per round and had a total of four chip-ins. In Saturday's third round, he took 28 putts -- making none longer than 13 feet -- and didn't chip in at all.

Nick Watney (16-under 200)
Needs to ... believe in himself and realize that he can take down one of the world's best players in what may seem like a head-to-head format at times. This year's Buick Invitational champion has exuded more confidence than in past years, but the spotlight has never shined brighter on him than it will Sunday. One commentator remarked that Watney owns a "deer-in-the-headlights" look on the course, but that doesn't matter; if his internal resolve remains strong and he can shake any nerves, he'll be right there at the end of things.

Needs to avoid ... danger at all costs -- again. Through 54 holes, Watney has made just one bogey and has yet to 3-putt. It would be ironic if, on a course where eagles and birdies have been so prevalent throughout the week, the guy who makes the fewest amount of mistakes comes away the winner.

Camilo Villegas (12-under 204)
Needs to ... makes birdies in bunches, as he's known to do. Along with Andres Romero, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, no one can make red numbers in a hurry like Villegas -- and this is a venue where going low is always a possibility. "It's a golf course where you can make a lot of birdies," he said after a third-round 69. "The greens are rolling very good and then you've got a very tough finishing hole where anything can happen."

Needs to avoid ... missing those bunnies. Villegas has holed 84.9 percent of his putts inside of 10 feet this week, which may sound pretty good, but ranks only 60th in the field. On greens that aren't giving the players too much trouble, that number may need to be a little higher Sunday.

Jeev Milkha Singh (12-under 204)
Needs to ... keep rolling the rock like he's been doing for three days. "I'm happy with the way everything is going," he said of his putting exploits. No one has made more feet worth of putts this week than Singh, who is seeking to add a first career PGA Tour title to wins in Europe, Asia and Japan.

Needs to avoid ... thinking too much about what a victory would do for his career. The 37-year-old from India is ranked 36th in the world, but has never played full-time in the United States. He said earlier this week that he would like that to change, but previous attempts at Q-school have gone awry. A win Sunday would solve that problem in a hurry.

Others (11-under 205 and above)
Need to ... go low. There's not much else to say about the chances of Charley Hoffman, Soren Kjeldsen, Jim Furyk, Alvaro Quiros and Kenny Perry (each at 11-under), and Justin Leonard, Rod Pampling and Rory McIlroy (each at 10-under).

There are scores of 64 out there to be had -- three so far this week; Perry and Quiros on Friday, Soren Hansen on Saturday -- and if one of these guys can pull that off, he could be sitting pretty in the clubhouse while the final group tries to hang on down the stretch.

Need to avoid ... aiming at every flagstick. It'll be tempting to try to step on the gas pedal and not relent, but no one is going to make 18 birdies and often trouble can happen when you're trying to be too aggressive. A healthy dose of birdies and not too many mistakes could propel these players back into the mix.


5:52 p.m. ET: So much for that two-shot swing.

Watney hits a brilliant chip to about a foot, Mickelson follows by missing his birdie attempt on the high side.

They each make par and close out their rounds at 16-under, co-leaders by four shots over Jeev Milkha Singh and Camilo Villegas.


5:46 p.m. ET: Very cool scene right now. With Mickelson and Watney both in the fairway on 18, the gallery has encircled them, watching from directly behind.

That might have flustered Watney and emboldened Mickelson.

The former pulls one deep and left of the green, while the latter knocks one to within 14 feet. Could be a very big momentum shift -- as much as two strokes -- here in the final minutes of play.


5:39 p.m. ET: That poor drive late in the day from Mickelson -- hmm, where have we heard that before? -- leads to bogey on 17, as he actually had to sink a 5-footer just to save that score.

Meanwhile, Watney makes par and each player is now at 16-under, 4 clear of anyone else.

Unless absolute disaster strikes on the final hole, these two will be paired in the final group again tomorrow.


5:32 p.m. ET: Here's ol' Mr. Excitement again ...

After a wayward drive on 17, Phil Mickelson is looking at a way of bending his next shot around a tree. And looking and looking and ...

He decides against it. Definitely the right decision, as Mickelson knocks one back to the fairway.


5:24 p.m. ET: Nick Watney makes birdie on 16 and picks up a stroke on the leader when Phil Mickelson missed his own birdie attempt from 11 feet.

It's now Mickelson at 17-under, Watney at 16-under ... and no one else better than 12-under.


5:15 p.m. ET: The way it looks like it will shake out right now, I believe Tiger Woods will be paired with Ernie Els in the tenth-to-last group of the final round at 12:25 p.m. or so.

A few quotes from Tiger's post-round interview session after shooting a 4-under 68 ...

On today's round: "I hit it great today. I hit it the best I've hit it in a long time. Granted, I haven't played in a long time, but still. I have not controlled the golf ball that well in a very long time, and that was fun. I was hitting shots that I had not been able to hit before which was such a great feeling. Unfortunately. I'm just not making any putts."

On what he will take from this week: "I'm getting better each day, the feel of playing in the game again at this level is coming back. Unfortunately I'm just not making putts. As I said earlier over there, six lipouts the first few days and seven lipouts today for birdie; that's a lot of lipouts for birdie, so it's pretty frustrating. ... It's not that far off, because if I make those putts or half those putts go in, I'm pretty close to the lead. Ball-striking-wise, very happy with how things are progressing. Unfortunately, I'm just not getting it done on the greens."

On his putting woes: "It's not the stroke. I feel like I'm rolling the ball on my lines at the right speeds. I hit a couple of putts today that were too hard but other than that, my speed has been good. It's just they are either hanging on the high side or just drifting across the front edge of the hole. And you know, it's just that close to being some pretty good scores."

On whether it's taking him longer to come back than he thought it would: "I think it did, the duration, and also the rhythm of playing this way. You just get used to playing out here, but I had not done it for a while. Basically if you look at it, I've only played two tournaments since the Masters, so that's not a whole lot of rounds. At the U.S. Open, I had a hard time finding the rhythm of the round. I got off to poor starts every day and found the rhythm after a few holes. And here it's happening quicker: I'm finding the rhythm, my pace of play, my feel, my swing, my touch is coming back now. Hopefully it will keep progressing as I come closer to Augusta."


5:12 p.m. ET: Uh-oh. Spoke too soon.

Mickelson misses the 8-footer, settles for par. Watney matches him. The lead remains two as the final pairing has four holes left to play.


5:04 p.m. ET: They were separated. Then together. Now they're separated again.

That sounds like something that should be in People magazine discussing some Hollywood power couple; instead, it perfectly describes the CA leaderboard over the past hour or two.

A third straight birdie on 14 moves Phil Mickelson to 17-under. He's now two strokes clear of Nick Watney and at least five ahead of everyone else, as Jeev Milkha Singh, Soren Kjeldsen, Jim Furyk, Alvaro Quiros and Camilo Villegas are each at 12-under.

And that separation could be even greater in just a few minutes. Mickelson knocked his tee shot on 15 to about 8 feet, will have that left for a fourth consecutive birdie.


4:53 p.m. ET: E-mail from Jeffrey in Parts Unknown:

There has been a lot of talk this week about Sergio Garcia having the opportunity to eclipse Tiger Woods as the world's No. 1 golfer. However, there seems to be little talk of Lefty possibly reaching this status. If he wins this week, he would be close, right? Also, do you think there's any question (especially after this week) that Mickelson is the second-best player in the world (regardless of the rankings)?

Mickelson could not pass Woods in any scenario this week, but you're right -- he's currently right behind Garcia and would ascend to well within striking distance. It's believed that Tiger will play at Bay Hill and Phil will play in Houston prior to the Masters; with a stronger showing by the latter, Mickelson could be the top-ranked player in the OWGR entering the Masters.

I'll agree that Mickelson is the second-most talented player in the world. Has been for a long time, in fact -- and these things don't change on a week-to-week basis. That said, "best" is a little more subjective. Just because Sergio doesn't own Phil's flop shot or Geoff Ogilvy doesn't drive it as far doesn't necessarily mean that either player isn't better. For that matter, throw Padraig Harrington into the mix. Remember: No other player in the world has won three of the last six majors.


4:50 p.m. ET: Phil Mickelson does indeed make birdie at 13 to move to 16-under. That's one clear of Nick Watney; could have been two, but the kid made a nice par save from the greenside bunker.

By the way, that bogey by Watney on 11 was his first of the week -- he went 46 consecutive holes to start the tourney before making one of 'em. And he has yet to three-putt any green here, either.


4:46 p.m. ET: Rough day for Kenny Perry, who is now among the very few at over par for the day.

Just prior to Mickelson's near-ace at 13, Perry's tee shot on that hole hits a rake by a bunker to the left of the green and caroms to behind the green. Then as he was addressing his ball, when he put his wedge behind the ball it clearly moved forward. Perry called for a rules official who said it's a one-stroke penalty. He then chipped past the hole and barely missed the putt to make double and fall back to 10-under.


4:44 p.m. ET: Wow!

Well, Phil Mickelson had four chip-ins in his opening 36 holes, but I'm not sure this one would have counted. Lefty just knocked his tee shot on 13 right at the cup -- it actually caught both the stick and the lip -- and it stops exactly 18 inches from the cup.

Should be a third straight one-putt for Philly Mick -- and a second straight birdie.


4:36 p.m. ET: Haven't checked out Mickelson's putting stat in a while ...

After one-putting the first five greens, he went 2-3-2-2-2 before one-putting each of the last two. That's 18 putts through 12 holes.

By comparison, in Round 1 he needed just 20 putts and yesterday he needed 22.


4:34 p.m. ET: Pair of birdies from Watney and Mickelson at No. 12 to separate themselves from the pack a little bit. They're at 15-under, two clear of Quiros and McIlroy.


4:26 p.m. ET: How easy is the Blue Monster playing today? Every player down to Louis Oosthuizen at 20th on the leaderboard is under par for the day. Only one player (Ian Poulter) in the top 53 is over par for the day right now.


4:19 p.m. ET: Exactly 30 minutes ago, I wrote about what might happen if Watney and Mickelson come back to the pack. I should have added ... or remain right where they are.

Watney is now 1-over through his last five holes, thanks to a bogey on No. 11, and Mickelson is 1-over for his last six.

They're tied for the lead at 14-under heading to the par-5 12th hole.

And the pack just behind is closer than we've seen all day, with Alvaro Quiros at 13-under and Jeev Milkha Singh, Rod Pampling, Camilo Villegas and Rory McIlroy at 12-under.


4:08 p.m. ET: One more stat on Quiros: He's now at 13-under, having birdied the par-5 12th hole. That puts him in solo third, two behind Nick Watney and one behind Phil Mickelson.


4:02 p.m. ET: Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros have broken out of that pack at 11-under with birdies in the last few minutes. We've talked a lot about McIlroy this week, but who is Quiros, you ask?

Let me provide some vital stats:

• He is 26 years old, from Cadiz, Spain, and is listed at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds.
• His last name is pronounced KEAR-ohs.
• He is currently the 24th-ranked player in the world.
• He is currently eighth on the European Tour's Race to Dubai.
• He owns five career international victories, including this year's Qatar Masters.
• His best finish on the PGA Tour is a pair of T-28 results at last year's Mayakoba Golf Classic and Puerto Rico Open.


3:49 p.m. ET: If Watney and Mickelson somehow come back to the pack here on the back nine, we could be left with an extraordinary number of players within a stroke or two of the lead entering the final 18 holes.

Jeev Milkha Singh just made eagle on 11 to join Soren Kjeldsen, Rod Pampling, Alvaro Quiros, Camilo Villegas, Kenny Perry and Rory McIlroy at 11-under. Right behind that half-dozen, another five guys are at 10-under: Charley Hoffman, Luke Donald, Sean O'Hair, Padraig Harrington and Jim Furyk.

Still anybody's ballgame.


3:39 p.m. ET: Watney and Mickelson trade pars once again. They'll head to the back nine with Watney leading by one.


3:36 p.m. ET: Nice shots from the final duo into the par-3 ninth hole.

Watney finds the back fringe, about 15 feet away; Mickelson is about 8 feet below the hole.


3:32 p.m. ET: After Perry lagged one up there, McIlroy had the line, but his prophecy didn't come true as he left the birdie attempt short.

Perry cleans up his par and both men make the turn at 1-under for the day, 11-under for the tournament. Not awful, but on a day when a score is out there to be had, it's gotta be disappointing.


3:29 p.m. ET: Just took a walk up to the ninth green to check out Kenny Perry and Rory McIlroy, both of whom are still at 11-under.

Perry's got a long birdie attempt from the front of the green. McIlroy's is much shorter -- about 18 feet -- but from the fringe.

Maybe I'm hearing things, but I could've sworn I just heard Rory tell his caddie, "I think I can make this."


3:23 p.m. ET: Interesting conversation between Mickelson and Watney as they walk up the par-5 eighth fairway.

Not sure how it started, but Phil is telling his playing partner about how he met wife Amy and how they dated for a few years before getting married.

For the record, Watney isn't married but does have a girlfriend.


3:17 p.m. ET: E-mail from Rick in Connecticut:

I think it was Watney about whom you said had one of the top-five swings on tour who would be the other four?

Great question. And one that I probably need more time and space to ponder.

Obviously, not all swings are created equal. I mean, who's to say a more violent move like that of Camilo Villegas isn't "nicer" than that of Watney.

That said, if we're just going by sheer beauty and my own personal opinion right off the top of my head, I'm taking -- in no particular order -- these five:

Ernie Els: So smooth.
Luke Donald: Classic move.
Nick Watney: Strength plus agility.
Adam Scott: Effortless.
Rory McIlroy: So natural.

Feel free to chime in with your own lists. And special commendation to Steve Elkington, too, who's long been thought of as owning the purest swing out here, along with the Big Easy.


3:13 p.m. ET: Five one-putts, a two-putt and now one three-putt for Phil Mickelson.

After reaching the fairway and then hitting an indifferent iron to the front side of the green, Mickelson needs three putts and posts another bogey.

He falls to 14-under and is now one shot behind Nick Watney, who countered with a par.


3:08 p.m. ET: E-mail from my buddy Rob in Dallas:

Do you think that Butch gave Nick some tips for playing with Phil the way he did Phil playing with Tiger back in Boston in '07?

No way.

But it is an interesting conundrum for Harmon, who is doing commentary for Sky Sports this week. I mean, you'd never see a football coach working with both teams before a game or a baseball manager doing likewise.

All Harmon can do, though, is just prepare each player -- as well as his other pupils, including Adam Scott, Stewart Cink and Ernie Els -- as best he can and sit back and watch during the round. But no -- I'm sure there were no special tips given to either player about how to beat his competitor.


3:01 p.m. ET: First two-putt of the day for Mickelson as he makes a ho-hum par at 6 (fairway, green, two putts).

Watney makes birdie, though, and they're both now at 15-under -- four shots clear of the field.


2:58 p.m. ET: Way too early to call this a two-horse race, but currently Mickelson is at 15-under, Watney is at 14-under ... and nobody else is closer than three strokes.

The group at 11-under currently includes Kenny Perry and Rory McIlroy -- both 1-under for the day through six -- and long-bombing Alvaro Quiros, who leads the field in driving distance this week.


2:50 p.m. ET: What goes up must come down.

After making birdie on 16, Tiger follows with bogey on 17 to drop back to 7-under.

If he makes par on 18, that'll be a 68 today. Not the greatest round of his career, quite obviously, but his best stroke-play total since returning from injury.


2:48 p.m. ET: Watch out, David Frost.

That's five straight one-putts for Phil Mickelson, as he stuffs a wedge on No. 5 and drains a 6-footer for birdie.


2:37 p.m. ET: Mr. Excitement is at it again.

Mickelson hits his tee shot into the hazard on No. 4, makes bogey.

That's a birdie-par-birdie-bogey start. He's back to 14-under.


2:29 p.m. ET: Another huge roar from elsewhere on the course and I've just found out that it was due to Tiger Woods holing out a bunker shot for birdie on 16.

He's now at 8-under. That would have been a nice number ... yesterday.

As it stands, Woods is now seven shots off the lead in a share of 17th place. Like he said after Round 2, he needs some help.


2:25 p.m. ET: I've mentioned a few times this week about how much Nick Watney worked on his putting stroke in the offseason.

Well, that dedication continues to pay off, as he just poured in a second straight birdie.

He also gave Mickelson a nice read -- a la DiMarco at the 2004 Masters -- and Phil drained his, too.


2:20 p.m. ET: Huge roar just across the pond separating the third and fourth holes, as Camilo Villegas has just chipped in for par.


2:16 p.m. ET: Mickelson may break the four-round putting record, but this isn't what he had in mind.

Lefty needs two chips to find the green before one-putting for par.

So, anybody wanna buy a short game instructional DVD?

Birdie-par start for Phil. Like I've said all week, excitement personified.


2:05 p.m. ET: Screw it.

Another hole, another tee shot to the right for Mickelson.

According to one observer, he was doing this during his practice session, too.

Of course, hitting fairways here is hardly a necessity. Each of the last two CA champions owned a driving accuracy of less than 50 percent.


2:02 p.m. ET: Great chance for Mickelson's fifth chip-in this week ... instead, it barely misses and he taps in for birdie.

Meanwhile, Nick Watney just barely missed the fairway, dumped his second in the bunker, then two-putted for par -- that's really like a bogey, however, on this hole.


1:55 p.m. ET: Screw it.

Using this philosophy, Phil has been killing the ball off the tee all week, but he just pulled his opening drive to the right and into the gallery.

No matter, though. I've got him paced off to about 167 yards, right downwind. Shouldn't be more than a 9-iron or so.

But he fails to hit the green in two here at the par-5 after he puts it just over the green.


1:46 p.m. ET: One last 4-footer for Mickelson: Make.

Always good to end on one that finds the bottom of the cup.

And with that, he heads to the first tee box for a date with Nick Watney in the final pairing of the day.


1:44 p.m. ET: I'm standing next to the practice green, about 30 yards from the first tee, but I didn't see the exchange between Rory McIlroy and Kenny Perry to start their round. Good thing Jon in Boca Raton, Fla., is looking out:

Don't know if you saw it, but Rory stepped up to hit his tee shot and the starter informed him that Kenny actually had the honor...he said whoops and sorry to Kenny. When Kenny stepped up he said, "Age before beauty I guess". Good stuff. I bet those two have fun today.

I think you're right. And I'll bet that Perry comes away very impressed with how well the young guy can swing it, and McIlroy comes away very impressed with how the old guy can swing it.


1:42 p.m. ET: And now Lefty from about 10 feet: Miss-miss-make.

Triple hmmm ...


1:39 p.m. ET: Here he is. Making his way through the crowd to raucous applause is Phil Mickelson.

He lines up three balls on the practice green from 4 feet away: Miss-make-miss.

Hmmm ...


1:37 p.m. ET: Just minutes before his tee time, no sign of Phil Mickelson on the practice green -- only his caddie Bones Mackay casually rapping a few putts right-handed with Phil's lefty flatstick.


1:22 p.m. ET: Prior to making par on 11, Tiger Woods posted two straight birdies. He's now 3-under through 11 and 6-under for the tournament -- good for a move up from T-35 to T-25.

After yesterday's round, in which he hit two-thirds of the greens in regulation but often struggled with distance control, Woods said, "I need to continue getting rounds under my belt and getting the feel of hitting shots, and shots off the tees are pretty easy because you can hit them whatever distance you want. Shots into greens are [a] totally different story, especially when the wind is blowing like this. I just need to get a little bit more of a feel for that. It's coming around. I felt better as the day went on."

Here's guessing he feels much better today. Tiger has yet to miss a green -- 11-for-11 so far -- but now it's his putting that is amiss. TW has two-putted every single green, but No. 9 so far.


1:18 p.m. ET: It may not be "Streak for the Cash," but it is a streak for some cash.

Soren Hansen finally made a non-3 on the back, posting a par on the par-4 16th, but followed with another 3 on 17. His back-nine scorecard now reads 3-3-3-3-3-3-4-3 and he's 8-under for the day while playing the final hole. This rally has lifted him to 9-under for the tourney -- all the way up to T-7 right now.


1:11 p.m. ET: We started the week with 80 players in the field, but that number has dwindled to 79. Earlier today, Aaron Baddeley was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. From the PGA Tour:

Aaron Baddeley was disqualified today for signing an incorrect scorecard after the second round. Today, Baddeley hit his tee shot into the hazard on No. 3. He called for a rules official to determine if he could move a stone that was under his foot during his stance. The rules official informed Baddeley that he could not intentionally move the stone.

When Baddeley reached No. 9, he realized that during the second round, he had hit his tee shot into the same hazard and HAD moved a stone that was under his foot in his stance. He called a rules official again, and Baddeley was asked if he intentionally moved the stone, or if it happened incidentally as he took his stance. Baddeley determined that it was intentional, therefore calling a penalty on himself (violation of Rule 13.4c). Since the penalty occurred during the second round, Baddeley had signed an incorrect scorecard yesterday and is therefore disqualified.

Baddeley receives last-place (80th), unofficial money: $35,000.

When reached for comment afterward, he said, "You have to be honest with yourself. I've got to be able to go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror. That's the great thing about this game. You know you can trust all the guys out there because you know they're going to do the same."


1:04 p.m. ET: I once shot this over six holes at a miniature golf course: 3-3-3-3-3-3. (Making par on the windmill hole was an achievement.)

Of course, that pales in comparison to Soren Hansen, who has posted six consecutive threes to begin his back-nine. That's eagle-birdie-eagle-par-birdie-par -- 6-under for his last six holes.

If he can finish off 3-3-3 -- not any easy accomplishment -- Hansen would tie the PGA Tour record for lowest nine-hole score on a set of par-36 holes.


1:00 p.m. ET: Welcome to Moving Day here at Doral, where most of the players are moving even deeper into red numbers. Of the 62 who have already completed at least one hole, 39 are under par, with Soren Hansen leading the brigade at 7-under for the day. (More on him in a minute.)

That's right -- premium scoring conditions once again here at the Blue Pussycat ... er, Monster. The temperature is in the low-to-mid 80s with a nice little 10 mph breeze.

One player who isn't taking advantage is Tiger Woods. After making birdie on the par-5 first hole -- which is really playing to a par-4 anyway -- he countered with seven straight pars and now stands 2-under for the day through nine holes and 5-under for the tournament.

We're still 40 minutes away from the penultimate group of Kenny Perry and Rory McIlroy teeing off. Should be a fun watch, considering their age disparity of 29 years; Perry actually has three children older than his playing partner. They'll be followed 10 minutes later by the final pairing of Phil Mickelson and Nick Watney, each of whom works under the tutelage of Butch Harmon.

Lefty will be attempting to continue his short-game magic; in 36 holes so far, he's needed just 42 putts. FYI, the PGA Tour record for fewest putts in a four-round event is 92, accomplished by David Frost at the 2005 MCI Heritage. Mickelson is on pace to obliterate that mark.

And what do Mickelson, Watney, Perry and McIlroy all have in common? They've each won tournaments already in the year's first two-plus months. Mickelson won the Northern Trust Open; Watney won the Buick Invitational; Perry won the FBR Open; and McIlroy won the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour.

With so many birdies -- and eagles -- to be had on this course, don't be surprised to see plenty of jostling on the leaderboard by day's end. I'll be here until the very final putt of the day drops on 18. As always, hit me early and often at the above e-mail address with any questions or comments ...

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.