1. Phil's next move
Twenty five years ago, Phil Mickelson won the Northern Telecom Open when he was 20 years old and a junior at Arizona State. It seems fitting now that he overcame a triple-bogey 8 on the back nine and birdied two of the last three holes to win, setting the course for a Hall of Fame career.
No player has won as an amateur on the PGA Tour since, and Mickelson and Scott Verplank (1985 Western Open) are the only ones to do so in the past 30 years.
Since that victory, Mickelson -- who did not turn pro until 18 months later -- has had just four years without a win on the PGA Tour, two of them in the past two years. That's the only time he's had back-to-back seasons with no victories.
Which brings us to this week's CareerBuilder Challenge, where at age 45, Mickelson makes his 2016 debut. It's his first tournament since the Presidents Cup and first since announcing he had left longtime instructor Butch Harmon. Mickelson is expected to play four straight events through the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and that looks to be an important stretch for him.
Mickelson turns 46 in June, and victories by players that age become rare. He has talked positively throughout his struggles, and continues to show enough flashes in his game -- three top-5 finishes last year including a runner-up at the Masters -- to offer hope. But a swing change at this point of his career seems risky.
Is he ready? Or will it take him some time to improve his form?
2. Big money -- for some
With four of the top-six-ranked players in the field for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, there is understandable interest in the European Tour event -- especially the grouping of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler. Henrik Stenson, ranked fifth, is the other top-10 player there, and all of them are likely to be rewarded handsomely, regardless of their finish.
The tournament has made no secret of the fact that it pays appearance money, a common occurrence on the European Tour. With a total purse of $2.7 million, it is reasonable to expect that Spieth, McIlroy, Fowler and Stenson will each receive more than the winner's prize check of $480,000 -- perhaps considerably more. Meanwhile, the $2.7 million purse is less than every PGA Tour event this year.
3. Rickie to Europe?
Rickie Fowler did not discount the possibility of taking up European Tour membership, which now only requires him to play five events outside of the majors and World Golf Championships. Last year he played the Irish Open and won the Scottish Open -- if he were to add those tournaments again, he'd only be two tournaments away.
Depending on how well he does in all the events, he could add something after the FedEx Cup playoffs, including the Final Series of the Race to Dubai.
"It's definitely not beyond the bounds of possibility in the future,'' Fowler said in Abu Dhabi.
4. The Masters opportunity
There are numerous excellent amateur golf tournaments around the world, few of which garner much attention. The Latin America Amateur Championship would be one of them if it weren't for the carrot of a Masters invitation to the winner. Augusta National officials were brilliant in coming up with the idea -- as they did for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship several years earlier.
The U.S. Amateur and the British Amateur also give Masters invitations, as does the U.S. Mid-Amateur. Those are long-established tournaments with a history of inviting top players.
The Asia and Latin America events are far from the best in terms of field strength, but they've done exactly what Masters chairman Billy Payne envisioned -- sparked attention in those regions and also undoubtedly inspired others to dream about playing in the Masters.
Paul Chaplet, 16, won the title on Sunday in the Dominican Republic and will become the first golfer from Costa Rica to compete in the Masters, perhaps spurring others to take up the game in his country -- which currently has less than 4,000 players and just 11 courses.
5. The inevitable anchoring ban fallout
It took only two weeks for the anchoring ban to cause an issue. Zac Blair was questioned following the final round of the Sony Open because it appeared that the butt of his fairway wood was up against his body while he executed a chip shot on the 71st hole. This was always thought to be a gray area relating to the new rule, which prohibits a player from wedging the end of a club -- or holding it against the body -- while executing a stroke.
"I was a bit in shock when he even asked,'' Blair said about the rules official. "I was asking him, what is he talking about. But I honestly don't know what to say, other than I'm not even sure what happened until I saw it. I definitely wasn't anchoring it on purpose.''
The problem is, there is no way of knowing for sure, especially when a player is wearing loose clothing or a sweater. There is no reason to doubt Blair, but the incident could still lead to suspicion, which is unfortunate.
6. (Bad) memories
The CareerBuilder Challenge -- known previously as the Humana Challenge and before that as the Bob Hope Classic -- is moving to a new venue this week, the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West. Well, it's new in that it's moving from across the street from two other courses at PGA West. But it's not new in that long ago, the tournament used the infamous course as part of its rotation.
Designed by Pete Dye, the course opened in 1986 and quickly became known as the place that was too tough for the pros. It got into the Hope rotation in 1987 and players hated it so much that they effectively lobbied to have it removed after just one year. Even Corey Pavin, who won the tournament, was said to have not liked the course.
"I think [then-PGA Tour commissioner] Deane Beman understands,'' said Roger Maltbie, then a member of the PGA Tour's policy board just a week after the tournament concluded. "When the players are that unanimous in their dislike of a golf course, he has to listen to them. There are too many good golf minds out there. I haven't seen this much unanimity among players about anything before.''
The players got their wish, with the Skins Game, Legends of Golf and several PGA Tour qualifying tournaments remaining. Now it's back after 29 years, after numerous adjustments and modifications. Today's players might wonder what all the fuss was about, although Golf Digest still ranks it eighth among its 20 toughest courses in America.
7. Sleepless in Abu Dhabi
Jet lag apparently got the best of Jordan Spieth, who was watching an NBA game in the wee hours Tuesday morning in the Middle East. Abu Dhabi is 9 hours ahead of East Coast time and 10 hours ahead of where Spieth lives in Dallas.
— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) January 19, 2016
8. That will work
Brandt Snedeker didn't win the Sony Open, but he did make 51 of 51 putts inside of 5 feet, which explains why he got into a sudden-death playoff. He made a 4-footer to get into the playoff won by Fabian Gomez. Snedeker would have broken out of a tie for fifth in PGA Tour victories since 2011 if he had prevailed. Rory McIlroy leads the way with 10, followed by Tiger Woods with eight, then Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson with seven. Snedeker is tied with Jason Day at six.
9. It takes one week
Fabian Gomez's victory at the Sony Open was his second on the PGA Tour following his FedEx St. Jude win last June. A good number of higher-profile PGA Tour players have not won twice in that span, but Gomez didn't exactly light it up during that time, either. He immediately missed four straight cuts after his first win, and in the 14 PGA Tour events before his victory, the Argentine didn't have a top-15 finish until he tied for sixth at the limited-field Hyundai Tournament of Champions the week before.