Should Mickelson be defending his title?
Among the numerous PGA Tour events that have received a major facelift in this year's new schedule is the AT&T Classic, which was formerly called the BellSouth Classic and played one week prior to the Masters.
Players and tournament officials alike have called it a change for the better, but there are some drawbacks, too. the most glaring? Phil Mickelson, who won at TPC-Sugarloaf by 15 strokes last year and is coming off his second victory of this season, won't be in the field after competing in the previous three events.
Should Lefty be there to defend his title? How will the rest of the season play out for him? Our experts answer these questions in this week's edition of Fact or Fiction.
Bob Harig, contributor, ESPN.com: FACT. Mickelson said long ago he would not be defending because the tournament changed its dates. He has valid reasons and just played three straight. But a defending champion should make every effort to be there. He could have skipped somewhere else. Of course, had he done so, we might be having the same discussion about that tournament.
Jason Sobel, golf editor, ESPN.com: FACT. Tough to criticize anyone under independent contractor status, especially a guy who honored Byron Nelson by playing his tourney when most of his elite-level peers skipped out a few weeks ago, but defending a title is a responsibility every champion has. He should take a page from Jim Furyk's book. Furyk won last year's Canadian Open, and has already said he'll show up this year, despite the fact that it lands one week after the British Open and just prior to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship. "I'll be honest," he said, "I probably would not play the tournament if I hadn't won, but yeah, I think it's a point of honor."
Ron Sirak, executive editor, Golf World: FICTION. This tournament is being played seven weeks later than last year. Losing the defending champ is the risk you take when making a move like that.
John Antonini, senior editor, Golf World: FICTION. As long the players are not employed by the tour, they can do whatever they want. When the tour moved the former BellSouth Classic from the week before the Masters to May, the players had to adjust their schedules. Mickelson wants to peak for the U.S. Open. If the best way for him to do that is by skipping Atlanta, then he has every right to do that.
Harig: FICTION. For all of his greatness, Mickelson has never won more than four times in any year. He's won twice this year and while he is certainly capable of winning three more times, history suggest he won't do it -- mostly because he probably won't give himself enough playing opportunities.
Sobel: FICTION. Considering his game still isn't where he'd ultimately like it to be under Butch Harmon, he's only going to improve, so the short-term future looks very bright for Mickelson. That said, he tends to get most of his wins in the first half of the season, so I'll give him two more this year for a total of four.
Sirak: FACT. Lefty is playing with renewed confidence. The nightmare memory of Winged Foot is gone.
Antonini: FACT. Three more wins sounds like a lot, especially since it would give him a career-high five this year, but it's not out of the question. He's playing well enough to contend in the U.S. Open and PGA, he'll be the best player in the field by far at Hartford and the FedEx Cup playoff events will keep him playing through the season. No, three more wins is not a stretch at all.
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