Keeping the stars behind will be Wi's task Sunday

February 11, 2012
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Charlie Wi will enter the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with a three-shot lead.

The only number that matters, though, is 115. That's how many combined PGA TOUR victories Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson have between them.


Wi is looking for his first.

"I'm sure I'll be fighting my demons all day," Wi said after a bogey-free 3-under 69 Saturday at Spyglass Hill. "It's not what other players are doing; it's how I handle myself tomorrow that is going to determine the outcome of the tournament."

In most cases that might be true. But not with that trio breathing down Wi's neck. Sorry, Charlie.

Woods of course has the majority of those 115 victories with 71, and he has his own demons to exorcise with the last of those official victories having come more than two years ago. But anyone who's watched him play the last three months can see the crescendo in progress. He won the Chevron World Challenge (an unofficial victory) in December and tied for third in Abu Dhabi last month.

"The whole idea of making these swing changes was to become more consistent and I'm starting to see that now," said Woods, who shot a 5-under 67 at Pebble Beach that included five birdies in a seven-hole stretch. "I don't hit the ball as far off line as I used to, and my ball doesn't curve as much. Consequently my off-days are not as far off."

Translation: The shots he did miss, like some of the ones he had over his final eight holes, were pars instead of bogeys.

Six months ago, that wouldn't have been the case.

"This model that I'm swinging in now, I understand it," Woods said.

Woods has also won here before and in doing so made Pebble Beach look like his own personal playground at times.

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Mickelson has the second-most victories of that group with 39. His year started slowly with zero top-25s in his first three starts, but that's usually when Mickelson pulls the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.

"I had a good couple of rounds last week and I started to hit the ball much more confidently and I had a good couple of rounds this week, so I've been slowly getting into the start of the year," said Mickelson after a 2-under 70 at Pebble Beach. "I could feel the difference."

The rest of us could see it, too.

Mickelson isn't someone who typically plays well in bad weather but thanks to some all-weather gloves he made just one bogey on a chilly, oft rainy day.

Like Woods, Mickelson has won here, having done so on three occasions.

Johnson has just five of those aforementioned 115 victories. Two of them came here in 2009 and 2010.

He also did a nice job salvaging what could have been a disastrous round on the easiest of the three courses with an even-par 70 at Monterey Peninsula, where he began the day with back-to-back bogeys.

All week, Wi has talked about a newfound self-confidence -- "I feel like my self-belief is higher than before," he reiterated Saturday. "Something turned over the last couple of months where I really feel comfortable with myself out there on the course."

Confidence is one thing. Winning is another. Just ask Spencer Levin or Kyle Stanley. Each blew big leads on Sundays.

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Though Stanley bounced back to win the following week, the point remains the same: It's hard to win when you haven't done it before.

Wi of course has more experience than Levin or Stanley and just last year he entered the final round of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial with the lead before shooting a 69 that day to finish second to David Toms.

Not bad, but it wasn't enough.

This isn't the first time Wi will try to beat Woods, either.

Wi, four years Woods' senior, grew up playing junior golf against him in Southern California and recalled being paired with him in a tournament at El Dorado Country Club in Long Beach.

The two were on a long par-3 and Woods came up 70 yards short of the green, Wi recalled. Woods nearly holed his next shot and got upset when he didn't.

"I said, 'Tiger, that's a great shot. What's wrong?'" Wi said. "He said, 'I was trying to make that.'

"That always stuck in my mind, how competitive he was; he's a fierce competitor."

Sunday, Wi might be reminded of that again.