Mickelson excited for new year and new driver

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 14, 2014 at 3:24 pm •  Published: January 14, 2014
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HONOLULU (AP) — Any new year can start with an old question: What will Phil Mickelson do next?

He's already thrown a change-up into his schedule — starting his year in a different desert when he tees it up this week in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship before returning to San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

He likely will skip the Match Play Championship again. The curve ball is Mickelson's intention of skipping Riviera to play the Honda Classic.

Mickelson last played the Honda Classic in 2002 when it was at TPC Heron Bay (maybe a good reason not to go back). It now is at PGA National, a typical Florida resort course with water on seemingly every hole. He has played Riviera the last seven years, with two wins and two playoff losses.

What really excites Mickelson is a new driver Callaway Golf made for him.

Mickelson was at his best with a 3-wood — think back to the 17th at Muirfield, two key shots that led to a claret jug. He says Callaway has used the same technology in that 3-wood and used it for a driver.

"That lowers the spin rate and allows me to drive it much penetratingly through the air, a lot straighter and I've never driven it this well," he said Tuesday in Abu Dhabi. "That's why I'm so excited about this year. If I can take that weakness and turn it into a strength, the other areas of my game have been as good as they've ever been. And I'm excited about what 2014 could lead to."

It's rarely dull with Mickelson.

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HUDSON AND HARRIS: A new season means new faces on the PGA Tour, such as Hudson Swafford.

Or was that Harris English?

The two former Georgia Bulldogs — and residents at Sea Island — have been mistaken for each other dating to their junior golf days. Both are 6-foot-3 with a languid walk, smooth swing, gracious manners and an easy smile. And they're best of friends. English was late getting to Hawaii because he was in Swafford's wedding on New Year's Eve.

"Larry Penley was the best," Swafford said, referring to the Clemson coach. "I don't think he knows Harris English exists. It was always 'Hudson' to me and him."

Swafford is two years older, so it was English who most often was called by the wrong name. That's changed in the last few years, especially around Sea Island. English won twice last year and is in his third year on tour. Swafford, always the big brother to English, is a rookie.

"Around Sea Island, I'm Harris now," Swafford said.

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HIGH ROLLER: Pat Perez might not face greater pressure all year than the final day of 2013.

He got engaged to his girlfriend of two years, Ashley Pendley, on New Year's Eve in Las Vegas. Typical of Perez, this was no ordinary engagement. He was going to a private party at the MGM Grand, where Stevie Nicks was to perform. Perez persuaded MGM officials to give him the stage before the show. All they said was to be ready.

"It was for all their high rollers — and me. Their $280 million in credit and my $500," Perez said. "So they call me. There's 2,000 people in there, and I'm hammered. I know a lot of the MGM guys, and they were giving me fireball shots at 8 o'clock. I'm getting nervous now. I get the microphone and I call her. They walked her over, I somehow get it out and I drop (to a knee), and they go crazy."

She said yes. Perez knew that. After all, Penley picked out the ring.

The entire setting has a diameter the size of a dime. Perez said the center was 6 karats, and the entire ring was 11 karats. He declined to say a price, only that "it's more than this bag is worth" as he pointed to his golf bag.

The wedding is planned for the end of the year, depending on how his season goes.