Napa - Phil Mickelson rarely has sounded so excited to start
a new PGA Tour season, even with the old season ending just three weeks ago.
Then again, he doesn't have a lot of experience winning the
Still gushing over the US victory two weeks ago at
Hazeltine, Mickelson gets one last chance to win something for himself at the
Safeway Open. It's the first event in the 2016-17 season. It's also the last
event of the year for the 46-year-old Mickelson.
"I'm still on an emotional high, and even though I've
been running around this last week, my energy level is up and I'm optimistic
about having a good week," Mickelson said. "I love the golf course
and the feel. It's in California and I'm excited to play."
The excitement was tempered earlier in the week when Tiger
Woods had said a month ago he planned to play at Silverado
and officially entered the tournament on Friday. The tour decided to put Woods
and Mickelson in the same group, along with defending champion Emiliano Grillo,
for the opening two rounds.
And then Woods said his game was "vulnerable" and
not where it needed to be for him to return to the PGA Tour for the first time
in 14 months.
Mickelson and Woods had not played together since the
opening round of the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla. Woods was replaced in
the group by Bill Haas.
Mickelson said he has texted Woods a few times, though he
understands the decision.
"We all want Tiger to come back, but we want him to
come back when he's ready," Mickelson said. "If he doesn't feel like
he's ready, then he should wait. We'll all wait in anticipation and we're
excited, but I understand there's a lot of pressure not just to come back but
to perform when he does come back. So you want to make sure that your game is
right because look at how much scrutiny he's going to be under."
Mickelson playing is rare occurrence, too.
This is the first time he has played a domestic PGA Tour
event in the fall since the FedEx Cup began in 2007, which moved the Tour
Championship from the last week in October to the end of September. Mickelson
also was on the task force that chose not to award Ryder Cup points to this
tournament or the others in the fall, arguing that it would give the
"bottom half of the tour" a head start in the standings.
Safeway is in its first year as the title sponsor, and
Mickelson's management company runs the tournament.
Mickelson is among only four of the top 25 in the world
ranking at Silverado, joining Paul Casey, Matt Kuchar and Grillo.
The star power on Wednesday came in the pro-am, where Golden
State Warriors guard Steph Curry played with Harold Varner III, who also was
raised in North Carolina. Curry was supposed to play with Woods.
"I wouldn't call it disappointment because obviously
that's a huge opportunity just to begin with," Curry said. "We'll be
happy to have him back whenever that time is. It's unfortunate that he's not
here, but I'll be watching whatever tournament he does come back."
Mickelson had one of his best years without winning. He
finished No 12 on the money list and went over $4 million for the first time
since 2013, the year of his most recent victory at the British Open. He ended
last year at No 34 in the world and now is up to No 15.
He even challenged to win the Vardon Trophy for the lowest
adjusted scoring average until falling too far back over the last three
tournaments of the season.
But he's still lacking a victory.
The Ryder Cup helped to feel that void, mainly because of
how much Mickelson had invested in it. He was the catalyst for change when he
publicly challenged the captaincy of Tom Watson in 2014, which led to the task
force and significant changes to the US model. Lefty backed it up on the golf
course, going 2-1-1 for the week and finishing with a 10-birdie round that
earned a half-point against Sergio Garcia.
Mickelson raved about the performance of the entire US team,
and had to be reminded that he performed better than anyone on the final day.
"I played some of my best golf, too, because when you
feel that kind of support and you play for a bigger purpose, it brings out some
of your best golf," Mickelson said. "I was certainly a beneficiary of
it, as well."
Now he's back on his own, though it was clear the Ryder Cup
was enough to carry him into the off-season.