Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Phil

The Super Bowl will most assuredly overshadow the Waste Management Phoenix Open this weekend. However, Phil Mickelson is putting on as good of a show as Ray Lewis, who will win because my grandpa always said defense wins football games. What a remarkable week it has been for Phil at Scottsdale! On Thursday, he had a putt lip out on his final hole for a 59, golf's magic number. He followed it up with a 65 that included a double bogey on eighteen during the second round to establish the new 36 hole scoring record. And yesterday's finish was as pure as any I have ever witnessed. I tuned in while Mickelson's group, which included two of today's top young stars in Bill Haas and Keegan Bradley, was finishing up the thirteenth. The former Arizona State Sun Devil and two-time Phoenix Open champion birdied the benign par five rather easily. He just missed a mid-range putt for birdie on fourteen. Then he turned it up for the loudest closing stretch in golf.

Following his other hometown event last week in San Diego, he met with his coach, Butch Harmon, to work on his driver. He only hit about one third of the fairways at Torrey Pines. He put a more lofted driver in the bag, improved his posture, and started hitting drives that even Louis Oostheisen would be jealous of. So to kick off the par five fifteenth hole Saturday, he bombed his drive past his playing partners into the middle of the fairway. From there, he went for the island green in two and ended up in the difficult left bunker. Ryan Moore in the group ahead, could not get up and down from the same spot just minutes prior. Phil addressed the ball, took a big swing, and stopped it seven feet from the cup. It was a masterful shot. In the previous 50 holes this week, Mickelson had made 38 of 38 putts from seven feet and in, an amazing statistic given Phil's history with short putts. On fifteen, he kept his perfect streak alive and made another birdie.

The sixteenth at Scottsdale is golf's version of chaos. The hole is completely enclosed by jam packed grandstands holding thousands of rowdy and very inebriated fans, not necessarily of golf, but more fans of fun at whatever cost. There is a constant murmur inside this coliseum of sorts. The noise, according to New Englander Keegan Bradley, is akin to Fenway Park in October, perhaps. Upon arrival to the tee box, the crowds demand the players attention. Any other hole on Tour sees the players in full control. At 16, the fans write the show. Players are obligated to pass out free hats, balls, tees, gloves, even footballs in Padraig Harrington's case to the demanding audience. Caddies are encouraged to race from tee to green with luggage in tow. Any golfer who does not hit this par three green in regulation is regularly booed for his efforts. Good shots are rewarded with college football caliber cheers, and a bogey is treated with more disdain than Colin Montgomerie trying to play in America. So Phil, already a unanimous fan favorite in Phoenix, steps into this arena with a huge lead knowing that he is the only one in the field who can probably do no wrong in this situation. With all the ASU chants and crowd noise rumbling in his ears throughout his swing, Mickelson decides to be the man we all love. He doesn't just go for the middle of the green to escape with a simple par. He takes this bull by the horns and goes right for the pin, tucked back left. The ball takes two hops and settles inside of two feet from the hole. The stadium and I, at home, go nuts. Folks in Mesa must have thought all three players in his group holed it the reaction was so tremendous. After watching both Haas and Bradley bogey to much chagrin of them and the spectators, Phil tapped in for yet another birdie to extend his monstrous lead over a charging Brandt Snedeker.

At 337 yards, the next hole is a driveable par four. The star of the week, drove his ball to pin high following two consecutive birdies. He continued to show off his all-around skills by chipping the ball within inches and tapping it in for yet another bird.

His performance on 18 did not disappoint either. His tee shot was hit in the water the previous day with a three wood. Therefore, the driver reappeared, and he did not hold back while driving it past the water way left. From the gallery he hit a beautiful approach leaving a mid-range putt, which he graciously holed for the fans surrounding the 18th green. So far this week, Phil is hitting most fairways, hitting over 88% of his greens in regulation, and making every putt inside of seven feet plus some from farther away. Those numbers are as super as any Colin Kaepernick has ever put up. I predict Sunday will be another spectacular round for this fan favorite and certainly worth a peek before the football begins.

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