Phil Mickelson is known to get on hot streaks. The question is how long one can last.
Even though Mickelson thought his game was close, not many had reason to believe it until Sunday at Pebble Beach. Starting the final round six shots out of the lead — and playing in the same group with Tiger Woods — Mickelson fired an 8-under 64 to win by two shots. It was the best round by three shots, more than seven shots better than the field average and 11 shots better than Woods.
So when asked about the potential of a letdown at the Northern Trust Open, Lefty had none of it.
"I feel like I had such a fun week that I want to try and have that again," he said Wednesday before heading out for a pro-am round in the rain at Riviera. "I don't feel like there's a letdown. I feel like there's an excitement and a new energy to get back in that position. I mean, I love having a chance to win.
"I feel like I'm playing well, and that if I play my game and focus hard, I should be able to get in contention and have that excitement."
He won't have Woods around to help with that focus.
Even so, the field at the Northern Trust Open is strong again. It features the No. 1 player in the world with Luke Donald, a pair of Australians from the top 10 in Adam Scott and Jason Day, and Dustin Johnson.
Twelve of the top 20 in the world will tee it up Thursday in what figures to be a week of sunshine and wind.
Mickelson is a two-time champion at Riviera, the fabled course off Sunset Boulevard that he has come to love. It's one of the more bizarre commutes, as Mickelson flies in his private jet each day from north of San Diego.
One of the more noted runs by Mickelson came in 2005. He took the lead in the second round of the Phoenix Open with a career-best 60, the start of 10 straight rounds in stroke play in which he was atop the leaderboard — wins in Phoenix and Pebble Beach, and the lead going into the final round at Doral, when he had a memorable showdown with Woods.
Woods wound up winning that day, and Mickelson effectively disappeared the rest of the year until, out of nowhere, he won the PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
Some thought such an energy-draining final round at Doral took all the momentum away from Mickelson.
"It's possible," Mickelson said. "But it's also possible that's just the way I play. I get on hot streaks, and I play to win, and I'm going to go for it. I'm going to try to make birdies. I'm going to play aggressive. And when I'm playing well, I make birdies and end up either in contention or winning.
"And when I don't have it, my mistakes are going to be big," he said. "I'm going to have penalty strokes. I'm going to be back in the pack. That's also just a sign of the way my career is, and the way I look at the game. Because I want to try to win, and if I'm on, I usually have a good opportunity to win."
By that measure, Mickelson doesn't look too much into the final round of Woods at Pebble Beach.
He had seen enough of Woods over the last two years to recognize vast progress with the swing changes. The trouble for Woods on Sunday at Pebble Beach was his failure to give himself close chances with a wedge, and when he did, the failure to make enough putts.
The results changed for Mickelson in one week. And he expects the same to happen with his old nemesis.
"It's such a night-and-day difference where the ball ... he never hooked a shot," Mickelson said after winning at Pebble. "He used to hook. You were just waiting for it. And now, he's just striping it right at his target with a tiny little fade, just like he used to do. And his iron play looked extremely sharp. I know the score wasn't what he wanted, and I know he didn't putt the way he wanted to, but you could tell that he's really close. And all it takes is one week."
For Woods, that could be next week in the Match Play Championship.
Mickelson won't be in Arizona. All three of his kids are out of school, so they are planning a family vacation. He wraps up a wild West Coast Swing at Riviera.
There were middle-of-the-pack finishes in Palm Springs and Phoenix, and a missed cut at Torrey Pines.
And then Pebble Beach.
For Donald, Riviera is a fresh start. He already has played once this year, in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour, where he tied for 48th. But this starts the meat of the season for Donald, as he tries to live up to the incredible standard he set for himself last year.
All he did was win four times around the world — the Match Play Championship, BMW PGA Championship, Scottish Open and Disney, the final tournament allowing him to become the first player to capture the money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour.
He is coming up on his ninth straight month at No. 1 in the world — the longest stretch by anyone not named Woods in 15 years — and he swept all the significant awards last year.
"The reality is, it's always tough to follow a great year, tough to follow a great round with another great round," Donald said this week in Arizona, where he surprised Match Play volunteers by showing up to sign autographs. "It's a challenge you always face. I'm trying to approach 2012 with a clean slate. I've got new goals and new opportunities, new things to achieve.
"I'll certainly take all the confidence I gained from last year and use that to my advantage," he said. "But I'm starting fresh this year."