Valspar Championship: What Phil Can Tell Us About Tiger

Mickelson’s win in Mexico serves as a reminder

More Valspar coverage:
Tiger Mania grips Tampa Bay
Rock Riley with Bob Harig on the Valspar, Tiger

Phil Mickelson’s win on Sunday at the WGC-Mexico Championship is the story of the early golf year. The 47 year-old survived a late charge from Justin Thomas to win in a playoff, his first win since 2013.

This week, Phil may not be in the field, but his victory last week has people thinking of big things for another longtime champion over 40.

Tiger Woods has made the cut twice in three tries in 2018. He finished 12th in the Honda Classic, his last tournament appearance. All the while, the golf legend who has been dealing with injury is feeling healthier.

“I only got two rounds in LA. I missed the cut there,” Woods told the Associated Press. “I felt really strong afterward. After playing Honda and really feeling good about it, I wanted to push myself in my practice sessions, which I did; push myself in the gym a little bit. And I can handle two weeks in a row.”

Woods knows he needs to spend consistent time playing in tournaments to get to where he needs to be. “I’ve only played 10 rounds,” he said. “I know people are saying that I’ve been erratic, little inconsistent. But 10 rounds, it’s not that many. … That’s basically how my comeback has been so far this year. I haven’t played a lot.”

Phil provides some encouragement. Tiger is 42, he’s had surgeries and injuries that have kept him off the course in recent years, and events off the course have been tumultuous as well. To that end, Mickelson is 47 and has arthritis. The adversity of aging, as well as the adversity of life intervening, would be no stranger to Mickelson. Woods is younger and seems to be in good health these days.

Nobody would imply that Tiger Woods’ comeback has been completed in just three tournaments. At the moment, Woods is 388th in the World Golf Ranking, has not won since the 2013 Players Championship, and has not finished in the top ten yet this year. There is a long way to go.

Nevertheless, Mickelson’s win helps the mind run a bit wth Tiger Woods at the Valspar. On Wednesday, Woods shot a -2 during the Pro Am event at Innisbrook, getting a feel for the Copperhead course and his own game. This course is considered one of the toughest tests on the PGA TOUR, perhaps the toughest one that professionals face every year. A round of -2 later in the week could make some real waves.

Tiger isn’t the only one who needs time in tournaments. Rory McIlroy struggled with a rib issue in 2017, missing quite a bit of the schedule. He too needs to get some tournaments under his belt to regain his form.

McIlroy will tee off in the morning on Thursday, part of the 7:45 pairing with Gary Woodland and Justin Rose. Following them will be a group of Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, and Matt Kuchar. These groups are the highlights of the morning pairings for Thursday, with Ryder Cup hero Patrick Reed and Louis Oosthuizen also scheduled to go off in the early group of tee times.

Woods, Jordan Spieth, and Henrik Stenson are scheduled for 12:46 on Thursday. Afternoon times also include Si Woo Kim, Branden Grace, Jim Furyk, and Adam Hadwin. Tiger Watchers should know that the times reverse for Friday, with those who go off in the afternoon Thursday scheduled for Friday morning. The featured group is scheduled for 7:56 on Friday.

The Valspar was often a victim of being skipped over because of where it is on the schedule. Next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational is one of the regular season’s most celebrated stops, and The Masters looms as players hope to get their games in shape. Couple that with the tournament preceding it being in Mexico rather than, say, Miami, and it can lead to some people bowing out. Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, Hideki Matsuyama, and Dustin Johnson are all absent this week as a result. Still, this might be the Valspar’s most loaded field yet.

All the better, as the Florida Swing is a real showcase for a golfer’s paradise. Florida is, in some ways, the Golf Capital Of The World. The PGA is headquartered at Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship. Much of the Tour makes their home in Florida, and a lot of the field comes from the Sunshine State. 21 golfers in the field, in fact, are listed as being from Florida. This includes, of course, the person who has been grabbing all the headlines this time around.

People come to Florida to vacation and play golf. One of the selling points of getting somebody to move to Florida is the fact that golf season never actually ends here. Some of the golf world’s favorite courses are here. Caddyshack was filmed at a club in Florida. The game has become a vital part of what makes Florida Florida.

With the note that the Players is often referred to as “the fifth major,” no major championships are held in Florida. This may change before too long, with the PGA Championship moving to May starting next year, the ideal time to hold a golf tournament in Florida.  With the Players moving to March as well, it complicates the Tour schedule but gives an avenue of hope for Florida getting that major.

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Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.