PPhil Mickelson had a putt for 59 in the first round of the Phoenix Open that caught the right edge of the cup, curled 180 degrees and stayed out. Three days later, he flirted with the PGA Tour’s 72-hole scoring record.
History aside, Lefty left the desert with the big trophy Sunday and a huge confidence boost after a season that got off to a shaky start on and off the course with middle-of-the-pack finishes at La Quinta and Torrey Pines and headline-making talk about tax increases.
“It’s an important one for me, because it’s been a while since I won, been a while since I’ve been in contention,” Mickelson said. “I was certainly nervous heading into today. I think the thing I’m most excited about was the way I was able to regain control of my thoughts after a few shots early on that I didn’t care for.”
He thrived when the pressure was the greatest Sunday.
The biggest test came on the par-3 seventh when his 5-iron shot sailed long and right, stopping an inch from the fringe and leaving him in danger of losing at least a stroke to playing partner Brandt Snedeker. Instead, he ended up leaving Snedeker shaking his head and went on to complete a wire-to-wire victory.
Fifty-five feet away, with a mound and a 20-foot swath of fringe between his ball and the hole, Mickelson decided to putt through the taller grass rather than chip over it. He had caddie Jim Mackay remove the flagstick so that it wouldn’t deflect the ball if it had too much speed, a move that proved wise when the ball raced into the cup.
“The challenge of that was to judge the speed where half the putt is through fringe and half is on the green,” Mickelson said. “I got lucky to have made it, obviously. I was just trying to two-putt it. It was going fairly quickly when it got to the hole, probably would have been 6, 8 feet by. With Brandt in there close, that was a big momentum change.”
Snedeker joked with Mickelson for a moment before holing his own birdie putt.
“Are you kidding me?” Snedeker said about his reaction to the putt. “I fully expected Phil to hit a flop shot from there. He didn’t have much of a putt, and he putted through it.
“I hit a great shot in there close and I thought, ‘Hey, I can get one on him here and put some pressure on him.’ He makes that, and he let me hear about it before I putt, and he let me know that I needed to make that to tie. We had fun with it. That’s Phil being Phil.”
Mickelson shot a 4-under 67 to finish at 28-under 256, two strokes off the PGA Tour record set by Tommy Armour III in the 2003 Texas Open. The 42-year-old former Arizona State star settled for a 60 on Thursday and followed with rounds of 65 and 64 to take a six-stroke lead into the final round.
“I think that sets up the tone for the rest of the year, because I really started to play well,” Mickelson said. “But for me, the rest of the year took a turn on Tuesday when I got my new driver. It just changed my whole deal.”
Snedeker finished second, four strokes back after a 65.
“Sometimes you have to tip your hat and say, ‘Phil played unbelievable and deserved to win,’” Snedeker said. “That’s kind of what this week was all about.”