Phil Mickelson begins his golf year this week in the Humana Challenge at La Quinta, but he can't wait to return to the Monterey Peninsula on Feb. 5-10, where he is the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am defending champion.
Pebble was the site of his most electric performance in 2012 -- an 8-under-par 64 closing round during which he rallied from six shots down to win by two over Charlie Wi and 11 over his final-day playing partner, Tiger Woods.
The victory was the 40th of Mickelson's career on a course where he initiated his pro career at the U.S. Open in 1992, and perhaps his most impressive finish ever in a tournament. Mickelson's finish, and playing head-to-head with Woods, also was good for the tournament, as the final round drew the highest TV ratings CBS had ever achieved for a nonmajor.
Mickelson, speaking by phone from his home in San Diego on Monday, remembers the day well.
"It's certainly the best round and best tournament I had all last year," Mickelson said. "In some cold and difficult conditions, I was able to have control of my golf ball, putted extremely well and doing it with somebody I enjoy playing my best with more than just about anybody in Tiger. It was really a fun week."
While Woods' return commitment to the AT&T remains uncertain, there will be no question about Mickelson, who will be shooting for a fifth victory in the event, which would tie him with Mark O'Meara for the most ever.
Mickelson seemed poised for a great 2012 season after his AT&T victory, particularly after he finished second the next week in the Northern Trust Open at Los Angeles' Riviera Country Club.
But Mickelson did not win the rest of the year and, after a third-place finish at the Masters, went into a slump during which he said he played some of the worst golf of his career. He was in contention at the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club after three rounds but shot a 78 the final day and finished 65th.
"There were a few technical things that came into play that I'd rather not dwell on," he said. "But going through that three- to four-month stretch of very poor play forced me to analyze, go back to the start and identify what areas of my game I was doing well and what areas I wasn't. I figured out I make two different swings with my driver and irons, and I can't play my best golf when I'm doing that."
Mickelson said he solved the problem when he focused on his iron play and let everything else fall into line. He started to feel improvement around the PGA Championship and finished his year strong with a fourth-place effort at the Deutsche Bank Championship and a second at the BMW Championship in early September.
"Each week I got better and better all the way through the Ryder Cup," he said. "That's why I'm so excited about this year. I don't think I would feel that way if I hadn't gone through such a tough point last year, which required me to analyze each area of my game."