Woods goes from inevitable to unpredictable

By Doug Ferguson

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 13 2012 1:35 p.m. MST

Tiger Woods, left, and Phil Mickelson stand on the seventh green at Pebble Beach Golf Links during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament in Pebble Beach, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012.

Eric Risberg, Associated Press

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Phil Mickelson has beaten Tiger Woods the last five times they have played together in the final round.

But never like this.

This was a pounding at Pebble Beach. Mickelson shot a 64 on a day when no one else could do better than 67. Woods had a 75 on a day when only four players — none of whom were in contention — shot worse.

One guy left with the trophy, the other guy left with a lot to think about.

The relevance of Sunday is still to be determined.

The real measure of Woods most likely won't happen until the Masters, which is just two months away. There is no doubt that Woods is more capable now than he has been since he was derailed from the fast track by chaos in his personal life and leg injuries. He has contended on Sunday in his last four tournaments, and that's not an accident.

It's the final rounds that are troubling.

In the middle of his last swing change in 2004, Woods had the 36-hole lead in consecutive weeks at Quail Hollow and the Byron Nelson Championship, stumbled badly on Saturday and then came up one shot short of a playoff on Sunday.

The last two tournaments, however, he hasn't even been close.

In his 2012 debut at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, he was tied with Robert Rock of England going into the final round and couldn't break par. Two weeks later at Pebble Beach, where he started the last day four shots behind Charlie Wi, he was one shot out of the lead while standing in the fairway on the par-5 sixth hole. Woods wound up nine shots out of the lead in a tie for 15th.

The guy dressed in red suddenly has a case of the Sunday blues.

He attributed his play in Abu Dhabi to not giving himself enough good looks at birdie. He attributed his downfall at Pebble Beach to not being able to make anything. Woods missed five putts in the 5-foot range.

Such performances used to be an exception, not a trend.

In those five tournaments where Mickelson has beaten Woods while paired with him in the final round, Lefty has won three times. So maybe there's some truth to the notion that Woods brings out the best in Mickelson, or that Mickelson brings out the worst in Woods.

Rivalries are made out of moments like this.

In Woods' benchmark season of 2000, Mickelson stopped his six-tournament winning streak at Torrey Pines and denied Woods a 10-win season on the PGA Tour by rallying to beat him at the Tour Championship.

The last time they played together on a Sunday when both had a chance to win was in Shanghai in 2009 for the HSBC Champions. Mickelson had a two-shot lead over Woods going into the final round, and Woods had to birdie the ninth hole to avoid shooting 40 on the front nine. He was never a factor. And that's when Woods was at the top of his game.

As much as Mickelson enjoyed this latest snapshot, he was quick to observe the big picture.

"Although I feel like he brings out the best in me, it's only been the past five years," Mickelson said. "Before, I got spanked pretty good. Let's not forget the big picture here. I've been beat up."

Mickelson won for the 40th time in his career, only the ninth player to do that in PGA Tour history. Woods has 71 wins. Mickelson is a four-time major champion. Woods has been stuck on 14 since 2008.

But an 11-shot difference between them on a Sunday? That's an attention-grabber, especially considering Woods' performance indicated he was getting close, and Mickelson's recent record caused him to start doubting himself.

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