In 2013, Steve Stricker played the reduced minimum of 13 events, two lower than typically required, which was allowed by the PGA Tour due to the shortened season. This year, the required number is back up to 15 events, so Stricker and others looking to play less still have to play the minimum.
What would that look like for Mickelson? First of all, Mickelson's already playing a pretty ideal schedule. For him to cut back significantly, he'd almost have to take a four-month break. And he could do that and still get in the minimum number of events, but they would be back-end loaded.
Mickelson has already played one event for 2014, the CIMB Classic, and he will add a second this week at the WGC-HSBC. That means he has only 13 left that are required, and we know he won't start his season in Hawaii because he never does that. He's looking at a two-month hiatus starting next week.
It's possible he will make his debut in the Humana Classic, because, basically, he can drive to that. But if he wants to skip one, Humana is at risk. However, it's just over the hill from San Diego to Palm Springs, making it an easy commute.
He will surely play in the Farmer's Insurance Open because that's in his hometown.
That's three and possibly four events on his calendar.
If he decides to play three in a row in the winter months, it would be in this stretch and would include the Waste Management Open, which he won in 2013. That could be his fifth.
He might participate in the WGC Accenture Match Play and then take a week off before the WGC-Cadillac at Doral for seven.
The big question, then, is, would he stay away from competitive golf until The Masters? Or would he play the Arnold Palmer Invitational or the Shell Houston Open, or both, as he did last year? Those two could be eight and nine.
Mickelson could then rest until The Players, although in the past, he has played the Wells Fargo the week prior. That would be 10 and 11.
On then has to wonder, can Mickelson show up without a week of competition and be sharp enough for the U.S. Open? Tiger Woods does it. Jack Nicklaus did it. But can Mickelson do it?
Right now, he is laser-pointed to Pinehurst No. 2 to collect the U.S. Open trophy that Payne Stewart practically promised him would be his one day. That was back in 1999, when Mickelson finished second for the first time. Mickelson's preparation for this year's U.S. Open is an unknown, except for the fact that it's at the top of his wish list.
What happens in Pinehurst will probably determine the shape of Mickelson's psyche for a few weeks, if not months, if not years. No one has had as many close calls at the U.S. Open as Mickelson. Is it his Achilles heel, as it was for Snead? As the PGA Championship was for Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer? That remains to be seen.
Regardless, it's likely that the U.S. Open will be, at best, his 12th start, followed by his 13th at the Open Championship. After that, he faces back-to-back weeks of competition—WGC Bridgestone and PGA Championship—for Nos. 14 and 15. That leaves only the FedEx Playoffs: three in a row, a week off and then the Tour Championship.
Completing that schedule would add up to 19 tournaments, plus the Ryder Cup. Most of his playing stress would be in January and February and from mid-July through the end of September. Most of his mental stress would be in April and June.
To skip a week in the massive finish, Mickelson could asses his points position and eliminate the Deutsche Bank. He can't skip The Barclays because it is one of his sponsors.
Skipping Deutsche Bank would leave him with a maximum of 18 events spread out over 11 months, heavily concentrated at the end.
To play less, he'd have to subtract the Humana or Waste Management or both. He could skip the WGC-Accenture or WGC-Bridgestone. Eliminating three of those four would knock him down to 15, exactly what is required. In addition, the WGC events are free money. Last place is typically worth $45,000, and it's guaranteed for showing up and playing. It's a gift for achieving a high world ranking and helps to keep a world ranking up.
Let's look at what Mickelson probably won't play if he truly cuts back:
McGladrey, OHL Classic (Mexico), Hyundai, Sony, AT&T Pebble Beach, Northern Trust, Honda, Valspar (Tampa), Valero, RBC Heritage, Zurich, HP Byron Nelson, Crowne Plaza (Fort Worth), Memorial, FedEx St. Jude, Travelers, AT&T National, Greenbrier, John Deere, RBC Canadian Open and Wyndham.
That's 21 tournaments, not counting the Frys.com and Shriners, that he will likely skip. So in total, that's 23 events in all that Mickelson will not play in the 2014 season. If Humana and Waste Management are thrown in, it's 25 events he would not play.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.
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