Sobel: How Phil Mickelson Can Influence Course Setup at Shadow Creek

Sobel: How Phil Mickelson Can Influence Course Setup at Shadow Creek article feature image

Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Phil Mickleson.

  • Phil Mickelson enters his one-one-one match with Tiger Woods as an underdog.
  • Given his experience, don't be surprised if Mickelson has some influence on the setup at the Shadow Creek Golf Course.

Of all the revealing moments during last week’s HBO Sports 24/7 show in advance of “The Match” between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, one went largely unnoticed — but it could offer a window to some clues about influence over course setup at Shadow Creek this Friday.

About halfway through the show, Mickelson putts toward a disc on the first green, simulating an actual hole. His ball rolls over the dead-center of this disc, while he tells the camera man, “This is a big hole to birdie and get off to a quick start. We should be able to get this one here.”

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It’s not what Mickelson said or did that’s important in this scene, though.

What caught my eye is that he placed the disc on the far-left side of the green, almost as if he knew where the pin position would be for the match.

And it got me thinking: Maybe he does.

Some oddsmakers have enlisted Woods as high as a -220 favorite and while neither player has competed in more than a month, it was Woods who was clearly in better form at the end of the last PGA Tour season.

That fact alone has led many potential bettors to believe the smart money should be placed on the favorite, but there’s a way for Mickelson to balance that scale.

Before I go any further, know this much: I know nothing about course setup for this match — nothing about who’s in charge, who might have a say and whether there’s been any haggling from either side.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mickelson attempts to impart some influence on the powers-that-be.

There’s not much that can be altered on a course to give Mickelson a slight advantage over Woods, but here are two ideas: Slower greens (Tiger hates putting on anything other than lightning-quick surfaces) and, yes, pin positions on the left side of many greens (which would allow the lefty to hit his favored cut into the hole, while the righty wouldn’t be able to play his preferred ball flight).

Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson certainly isn’t above this type of gamesmanship.

Three months ago, PGA Tour pro Colt Knost joined us on the Action Network Golf Podcast and told some tremendous stories.

Among them was a Mickelson tale from a match they once played at The Madison Club in Palm Springs. The teams were Mickelson and fellow pro Ben Crane against Knost and a big-time TV show writer who was playing to a 24-handicap.

“The guy wants to play a tee up, which is totally fair because he hits it about 200 yards. Phil says, ‘No, you have to play it all the way back.’ I’m like, ‘Listen, this isn’t fair. Let the guy play a tee up. He’s getting 24 shots, he obviously needs them.’ Finally, Phil agrees. So we get to the first hole and the white tee is 30 yards ahead of the back one. We get to the second hole and I notice it’s not quite as far ahead. Third hole, it’s like three yards ahead. Then three yards ahead again. I look at Phil and he just smiles at me. I’m like, this son of a bitch. He called the pro shop and had the pro move every next-to-back tee right in front of the back tees. And they wore us out. That was a veteran play by Phil, an impressive one. Not many people would have the balls to actually call the pro shop and do that.”

Moral of the story? Mickelson isn’t above some perfectly legal maneuvers to move the odds in his favor.

He might not even try anything prior to the match against Woods, but it shouldn’t surprise any of us if he does.

This is less conspiracy theory than just a theory, one player using his influence to potentially impact the final result without cheating or even bending the rules.

It should also beg this question: If Phil can use this influence to alter certain specifications, then why wouldn’t Tiger do likewise?

The easy answer is: He could, but that’s not as much in his nature.

Tiger is no stranger to money games, but there aren’t many stories floating around about him having the white tees moved back to beat a high-handicap opponent. He will almost certainly impart some gamesmanship during the match, but it’s hard to believe he’ll try to alter the setup ahead of time.

That’s more of a Phil move.

Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t. Maybe it’ll impact the final score, maybe it won’t. It’s not as if Tiger has never stiffed an approach to a left pin or rolled in a 20-foot birdie on a moderate-speed green.

But if one player can influence these aspects slightly to move the odds in his favor, that player is almost definitely going to be the one who’s the underdog in this match.

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