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The guy in red suddenly has the Sunday blues

Tiger Woods

Eric Risberg

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Woods drives so much interest in golf that no one is a great victim of a rush to judgment. Remember, it was in 2001 when a golf magazine printed the headline, "What Wrong With Tiger?" on its cover after he failed to win the first five tournaments he played. Woods won the next three, including the Masters, which made him the only player to hold all four professional majors at the same time.

Even so, there is something that gives one pause about Pebble Beach.

Woods sounded indignant when someone brought up the fact his last PGA Tour victory was in September 2009, and his last win against a full field was two months after that in the Australian Masters, right before the Thanksgiving night fiasco that shattered his image and moved golf from sports pages to gossip magazines.

"People think it's a couple of years, but I just won a couple months ago," he said of the Chevron World Challenge, where he birdied his last two holes for a one-shot win over Zach Johnson against an 18-man field. "I look at that as a win. And I'm just kind of off to my first start of the year here in the States, and I made some good improvement this week."

Then again, that win at Sherwood was inches away from being different. Woods had control of the final round early, let it get away, and could only watch as Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that looked all the way until it wasn't. That would have given him a two-shot lead. Instead, Woods knocked in his 15-footer to tie, then won with a six-foot putt on the end.

If Johnson's putt goes in, the hole undoubtedly shrinks for Woods' birdie attempt.

That's how it looked for him Sunday at Pebble Beach during the opening seven-hole stretch, fertile ground for comebacks. His 5-foot birdie on the second hole missed the cup by two inches, which, on the PGA Tour level, is close to a mile. He was grinding to match Mickelson's birdie on the fifth, and he three-putted from 18 feet on the seventh, missing his par putt from inside 3 feet.

Woods near the lead on Sunday used to bring a sense of inevitability. Now he is about unpredictability. He has said he is at peace with himself, and he looks calm and confident while working his way into contention. Sunday is hard work. There is a feeling watching him that Woods is trying too hard, that every putt means too much.

Perhaps that will change.

It used to be that each win gave him even more confidence. Now, one has to wonder if each Sunday brings more doubt.

GOLF THIS WEEK

PGA TOUR - NORTHERN TRUST OPEN

COURSE: Riviera Country Club (7,349 yards, par 71).

TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday, 3-6 p.m., 8:30-11:30 p.m.; Friday, 12:30-3:30 a.m., 3-6 p.m., 8:30-11:30 p.m.; Saturday, 12:30-5:30 a.m., 1-2:30 p.m., 9:30-11:30 p.m. Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m., 9:30-11:30 p.m.) and CBS (Saturday, 3-6 p.m.; Sunday, 3-6:30 p.m.).

OH CANADA: Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask. and David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., are the only Canadians in the field. DeLaet was MDF last week at Pebble Beach, meaning he made the cut but was not allowed to participate in the final round under a rule enacted to keep fields manageable. He still gets credit for making the cut and collects last place money. Hearn is back after missing last week's event.

NOTES: Phil Mickelson, who rallied from six shots behind to win the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for the fourth time last weekend, is playing for the fifth straight week. The two-time winner of this event is skipping the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship next week in Arizona in order to take a family vacation. ... Woods is taking the week off, having last played his hometown event in 2006. ... Top-ranked Luke Donald is making his first PGA Tour start of the season. He tied for 48th three weeks ago in Abu Dhabi in his lone tournament of the year.

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LPGA TOUR - HONDA LPGA THAILAND

COURSE: Siam Country Club, Pattaya Old Course (6,477 yards, par 72).

TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 12:30-2:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 3-6 p.m.).

OH CANADA: There are no Canadians entered in this event

NOTES: Top-ranked Yani Tseng won this event a year ago, beating Michelle Wie by five strokes for the third of her dozen 2011 worldwide titles. ... Wie is making her first start of the year after skipping last week's season opening event in Australia. ... Paula Creamer is also making her 2012 LPGA debut after missing last week's event to attend a friend's wedding.

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CHAMPIONS TOUR - ACE GROUP CLASSIC

COURSE: The TwinEagles Club, Talon Course (7,193 yards, par 72).

TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Friday, 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Saturday, 12:30-2:30 a.m., 6:30-9:30 p.m.; Sunday, midnight-2 a.m., 7-9:30 p.m.; Monday, midnight-2 a.m.).

OH CANADA: Jim Rutledge of Victoria, B.C. is playing his second straight event while Rod Spittle of Niagara Falls, Ont. tees it up for the third time this year.

NOTES: Bernhard Langer won at The Quarry for the last of the German star's 14 Champions Tour titles. He had a tournament-record 20-under total to beat Fred Funk by four strokes. ...The tournament, in its 25th year, was last played at TwinEagles in 2006. Loren Roberts won that year to become the first Champions Tour player to open a season with three straight victories.

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NATIONWIDE TOUR - BOGOTA OPEN

COURSE: Bogota Country Club (7,237 yards, par 71).

TELEVISION: None.

OH CANADA: Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., and five other Canucks are in the field for the Nationwide season opener - Stuart Anderson of Sooke, B.C., Chris Baryla of Vernon, B.C., Bryan DeCorso of Guelph, Ont., Brad Fritsch of Ottawa, Jon Mills of Belleville, Ont., and Ryan Yip of Calgary.

NOTES: The tournament opens the Nationwide Tour's 23rd season. ... Steve Pate won the inaugural event in 2010 to become the oldest champion in Nationwide Tour history. He was 48 years, 9 months, 11 days. ...Brenden Pappas won last year when lightning wiped out the third round, reducing the event to 36 holes.

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EUROPEAN TOUR/ASIAN TOUR - AVANTHA MASTERS

COURSE: DLF Golf & Country Club (7,156 yards, par 72).

TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.).

NOTES: John Daly and Todd Hamilton are in the field along with former Oklahoma State star Peter Uihlein. ...Indian star Jeev Milkha Singh is a three-time winner on the European Tour. ... Last year India's SSP Chowrasia closed with a 5-under 67 for a one-stroke victory over England's Robert Coles. Chowrasia also won the European Tour's 2008 Indian Masters at Delhi Golf Club.

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LET / ALPG - NEW ZEALAND WOMEN'S OPEN

COURSE: Pegasus Golf Club (5,631 yards, par 72)

TELEVISION: None

OH CANADA: Charlottetown's Lorie Kane is the lone Canadian entered in the tournament

NOTES: Lydia Ko, the 14-year-old top ranked women's amateur in the world who became the youngest winner in golf history when she won the NSW Open, is among the favourites this year after finishing tied for 7th in 2010 and fourth last year. ...LPGA Tour player Sarah Kemp has finished runner up twice in the event and had a top 10 last year. ...Defending champion Kristie Smith won the title by three shots last year for her maiden win on the LET.

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eGOLF PROFESSIONAL TOUR - PALMETTO HALL CHAMPIONSHIP

COURSE: Palmetto Hall Golf Club, Robert Cupp and Arthur Hills courses, Hilton Head, S.C.

OH CANADA: Matt Hill of Bright's Grove, Ont., is among the notable Canadians in the field for the season opening event which also includes Cam Burke of New Hamburg, Ont., Derek Gillespie of Oshawa, Ont., and Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C.

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