No, we're not used to seeing this... at least, not this year. But it appears last Sunday wasn't an aberration.
Phil's been saying that he didn't understand why his practice was so good and his tournament rounds were so bad. After watching him play in windy weather the last couple of rounds, I share his confusion. I have to chalk it up to his mindset, although I'm not sure exactly which aspect of the mental game has changed. Let's take a quick look at the possible areas -- perhaps one of them is your trigger as well.
Phil has mentioned a lack of focus before, and how Tiger always seems to get his juices flowing as he did last week at Pebble Beach. But competition seems to be of limited use to Phil -- at least, it is if he only gets it when he plays Tiger. I would think that anytime he got into contention he'd be able to focus, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
If it's all about focus, perhaps Phil needs tough conditions to help him focus. It was windy in the last round of the 2011 Open Championship when he finished so well. It was windy last weekend when he faced Tiger. And it was windy Thursday at the Northern Trust Open.
Perhaps course setup has something to do with it. The greens at Pebble are about half the size of the other courses on Tour, and heavily contoured as well. I don't know how the size compares but Riviera's greens are also heavily contoured.
Confidence helps everybody, of course. After seeing some drives land in the fairway and putts go in the hole, I'm sure Phil finally believes he's found the key to his game. Unlike the other things I've mentioned, confidence is a trickier motivation to identify. When you see bad weather, it's easy to tell you've got tough conditions. But confidence can come from any number of places, not all of them understandable. A run of good play can give one player confidence, yet a mediocre round may get another player going because he believes he did something well that didn't help his score at all.
In a word, it's often hard to figure out why your mindset suddenly becomes positive. But when you find that positive thread, it's amazing how quickly your game can turn around.
J.B. Holmes, currently T2, seems to be getting his game back together after his brain surgery last year... and we don't need a sports psychologist to understand why. J.B. had been taking his golf a little too seriously. After having doctors probe around inside his skull, golf must be pure joy for him again!
Maybe Phil's found a bit of that too. At any rate, I hope he keeps hold of what he's found. It's much more fun to watch Phil when he's playing well.
BTW, about the LPGA... while Yani struggled a bit during her first round in Thailand (as well as in Australia last week), she was scampering up the leaderboard as I wrote this during her second round. Although the leaders hadn't teed off yet, Yani was only 2 behind after 10 holes. And Michelle Wie bounced back with a -4 round to get back under par.