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Monday, January 31, 2011

The Monday Recap: Lefty's transformation

Phil Mickelson at last year's Tour Championship/courtesy of McClatchy-Tribune Services

The Tiger-less final round at Torrey Pines was exciting to watch.

Those that tuned in on an otherwise slow sports day, witnessed Bubba Watson fend off Phil Mickelson and last week's winner Jhonattan Vegas to capture the Farmers Insurance Open.

Vegas was trying to win in back-to-back weeks for the first time on the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods in 2009.

His second on the par-5 18th came up woefully short, found the lake and ended his chance.

Watson missed the green with his second with a poor approach, but did what champions do, when the left-hander curled in a birdie-saving putt with Mickelson waiting in the last group.

But what Sunday's round might have suggested is something that golf fans have asked Mickelson to do for years - play smart.

Lefty has a history of swashbuckling tactics that can be very good (see 2010 Masters) or very, very disastrous (see U.S. Opens).

However, Mickelson layed up rather than trying to pull off that one-in-a-hundred shot that Lefty is accustomed to try under the intense final round pressure.

And then something really cool happened.

Known as a supreme talent with a wedge, Mickelson had his caddy tend the flag for his third shot from 72 yards away.

This isn't typical protocol, but playing in the last group needing to hole out to force a playoff, standard procedure goes out the window.

Mickelson even walked up to the green to judge the contours.

He nearly pulled it off, landing the ball next to the cup and spinning it back slightly.

It just didn't spin back enough and Watson won.

So have we seen a change in Mickelson's course management?

Maybe, but we won't know for sure until he does it again ... and again ... and down the stretch with a major (U.S. Open) on the line.

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