Alternate Shot: Now that Phil's back ...
Even before he was a Masters champ, Phil Mickelson sometimes marched to the beat of a different drummer.
After all, this isn't the first time he's skipped the Mercedes Championships, known as a plush financial reward for tournament winners from the previous year.
But the question remains: Will skipping the Mercedes and the Sony Open hurt Phil's chances to contend for a title in his hometown of San Diego.
Golf World's Ron Sirak and ESPN.com's Bob Harig debate the issue.
While it is not unusual for Mickelson to skip Hawaii and pick up the season when it returns to the mainland, he is likely to find out that the quality of play on the PGA Tour has improved so much that it will be difficult to just jump back into the fray. A lot of guys have gotten a lot better.
It's not just Tiger, Ernie and Vijay that Phil has to worry about. Guys like Stuart Appleby and Stewart Cink look ready to move up to the elite tier of players and some young guns like Adam Scott and Justin Rose are only a step behind.
Mickelson will be well into the swing of things by the time the tour gets to the Masters -- and that is probably his plan -- but it will take him a couple of events to get his play to the level of the guys who are playing their best right now.
This is not a knock on Phil as much as it is a recognition that the PGA Tour probably has more talent right now than it has ever had. Four players -- Singh, Woods, Els and Mickelson -- have a legitimate claim to being the best on the world. And a slew of other players -- let's not forget Sergio Garcia, Mike Weir, Darren Clarke and more -- are on a very crowded plateau right below them.
Phil will catch up, but there is just too much talent out there to give too many players too much of a head start.
-- Ron Sirak
Phil Mickelson disappointed many by skipping the Mercedes Championships, an all-star game for 2004 tournament winners. And he's been known to do things his way, despite a few raised eyebrows.
But given the success Mickelson had last year, he seems to know what he is best for him.
So skipping the first two tournaments of 2005 will have no effect on how he performs at this week's Buick Invitational. In fact, it may help him.
Mickelson doesn't like the Bermuda greens in Hawaii, so his putting stroke should be fine. And there's a good chance Mickelson spent the time wisely, honing his game, working on the things that made him among the best in the world in 2004.
He has a busy schedule ahead, so there is no reason to believe he won't have success in San Diego, which happens to be near his home.
Last year, Mickelson used the same approach to contend in all four major championships, winning the Masters.
And last year, Mickelson did not make his season debut until the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, which he won.
That happened to be the third week of the season -- same as the Buick Invitational this year.
-- Bob Harig
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