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Lefties to the fore
Despite weather conditions more reminiscent of The Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland in October, lefty Phil Mickelson performed minor miracles in California by taking his second successive win in as many weeks. After his emphatic victory in Scottsdale, his Pebble Beach win is all the sweeter as it is his first ever back-to-back success and his 25th USPGA Tour triumph. As if to underline the special benefits of playing golf the wrong way round, lefty Mike Weir took a comfortable second place in the AT&T Pro-Am.

The AT&T is not an easy one to win. Not only are you obliged to play four consecutive rounds with a paying amateur, you are also required to play three different courses in as many days. Phil took it all in his magnificent stride, creating course and tournament records on his way to a four shot victory. Mike Weir pushed him but he left it late and ultimately his challenge turned out to be more of a nudge than a push.

After opening with a course record round of 62 at Spyglass Hill, Mickelson went on to Poppy Hills and looked like setting another course record before slipping putts to a 67. His 15-under par total was nevertheless a tournament total 36-hole record at 129 by two shots and was enough to stretch his lead over Weir by four. At 11-under par Weir must have felt that a share of the lead at least would have been fair for his efforts. Saturday and Sunday at Pebble Beach, playing the easiest of the three courses, promised a 20 plus under par total and another tournament record. That didn't transpire but the lefties continued to prevail in style.

Mike Weir looked to have left the game after a third round 73 while Mickelson increased his lead to 19-under par, leaving Sunday a mere walk in the park. Weir, however, responded in the last round with a 67 to Mickelson's 73, but it was too little too late. The lefties prevailed in blustery wet weather on the Monterey Peninsula and between them created something special for no two lefties have contested anything, to my knowledge, far less a tournament of this stature. Greg Owen's achievement in taking third place was somewhat overshadowed. His winnings, however, will have gone a long way to his retaining his hard won USPGA Tour card for next year and if he continues in this form it will not be long before he has his first US win.

Mickelson and Weir's achievement is astonishing and sets one to wonder if the majority are playing the game the wrong way round. They were the only two left-handers in the field and the statistical improbability of them taking first and second place would be heart warming to a bookmaker. Left-handers are not commonplace in the population as a whole and in golf they are as rare as hen's teeth. Not since Bob Charles, a singular oddity in his day, have we seen a lefty Major winner before this current duo and never before have we seen such lefty dominance in a tournament - and there have never been two lefties in the top-50 in the world, far less two in the top-10.

Lefties look awkward to the right-handed player and can be disturbing to play against. Some, like Weir, can play almost as well right-handed and there are a bizarre few that putt left-handed and play through the green right-handed. I know a right-hander who plays left-handed because he started with his mother's set of left-handed clubs and simply kept going with them - but he has other problems as well. Some natural left-handers play right because the clubs they started with were right-handed. There seems no general rule but what is clear is that the lefties appear to be taking over and if Weir and Mickelson continue in this vein they will do big things for the sale of left-handed clubs - get your order in now.

It is perhaps worth noting that Shinty players in Scotland play left-handed and, in places like Newtonmore and Strathpeffer, the majority of golfers are left-handed. This is, of course, a carry-over from Shinty playing and has nothing to do with the whiskey production in the area.

It is not unlikely that Weir will retain his title at Riviera next week to make it three in a row and create another lefty record. Should Mickelson take second place the teaching pros of the world should assess the situation and the rest of us should give some thought to the possibility that we are playing the game the wrong way round.

©    15 - FEBRUARY 2005

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