One week ago, Phil Mickelson sprayed tee shots left and right on his way to a lackluster T51 finish at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, never carding less than a 70 in any round. This weekend, after a visit with his Callaway equipment gurus and a tune-up with swing coach Butch Harmon, Mickelson came to the 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open with a new driver and new confidence in his game off the tee, and gave the field a lesson in all phases of the game.
Though not immune to the occasional flyer off the tee this week, Mickelson was finding greens even when he didn’t find the short grass off the tee. He was deadly with an iron in his hand, going 9-under on the par 3s for the week, and was sinking putts from seven area codes, almost daring the ball to come up short or lip out like the two first-day putts that kept him out of the record books for a 59 or 58.
The Tom Weiskopf-designed course at TPC Scottsdale is not one of the more difficult courses on the PGA Tour schedule, but Phil Mickelson dismantled the place like a 6200-yard muni. He came out of the blocks with a first-round 60, setting golf fans on the edges of their seats as he flirted down the stretch with a round of 59, or possibly a record-setting 58. His second-round 65 was almost a letdown after the way he had blistered the track the day before, and left him short of a share of the Tour’s 36-hole scoring record of 124 by a single stroke.
Bogey-free through the third round (he cancelled out an eagle on the par-5 fifteenth hole with a double-bogey on the par-4 eighteenth in the second round), Mickelson flirted with the record books again on Saturday, tying the tournament’s 54-hole record of 189, set in 2001 by Mark Calcavecchia and just missing a match with the Tour record of 188, which is owned by Steve Stricker.
As his opponents got caught up in cycles of fire-and-fall-back, banging out a low round only to fall off the pace the next day, Mickelson capitalized on the jump his first-round 60 gave him on the rest of the field by playing steady, consistent golf and leading every round, never by less than his initial lead of four strokes.
The first round was the only round in which he carded the lowest score, but none of his opponents could leap the gap that separated them from the San Diego-born southpaw. Keegan Bradley followed his opening 67 with a 63 in the second round, only to stumble to a 73 in the third and play himself out of the contest. Bill Haas’ third-round 70 dropped him off the pace, and Padraig Harrington, though playing better than he has done in recent memory, was just that little bit too inconsistent, with rounds of 64-70-63-70, to keep up with the fast company he found himself in at TPC Scottsdale this weekend.
The only player to match Mickelson for consistency was eventual runner-up Brandt Snedeker. For the second week in a row the reigning FedEx champion put up a performance that would have had him accepting the trophy on Sunday afternoon any other week, only to be outdone by a Hall-of-Famer on a hot streak. Last week, at the Farmers Insurance Open, Snedeker was the one who opened the tournament with a crackerjack round, but a second-round 75 put him at a disadvantage to a hot-streaking Tiger Woods that he couldn’t overcome. This weekend in Phoenix Snedeker lost to Mickelson by the exact margin that separated their scores on day one – four strokes. Snedeker matched Mickelson virtually stroke for stroke over the final three days of the tournament, but as hot as he was, his opponent didn’t cool off from his white-hot opening round, and never let the red-haired young Tennesseean back into the contest.
It remains to be seen whether Phil Mickelson will be able to translate his success in the Arizona desert to a successful defense of his AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am title. He has a hot new driver in his bag, though – and the memory in his mind of hoisting his fourth AT&T trophy after having thrashed a floundering Tiger Woods by eleven strokes, 64-75, on Sunday afternoon last year – so don’t discount the possibility of back-to-back wins, and AT&T championships, for Lefty.
Closer to home for Bay Area golf fans, this weekend in Phoenix San Bruno’s James Hahn capitalized on his fourth made cut in a row to rack up his second Top 25 finish in four tournaments. Hahn is showing that he can handle the pressure of PGA Tour competition, and even revel in it, as he demonstrated on Saturday and Sunday in the manic arena atmosphere of TPC Scottsdales’s 16th hole.
Taking in stride the customary boos from the crowd after missing the green at the 16th hole on Saturday, Hahn smiled and waved back to the rowdy crowd after his attempt to chip back onto the green fell short and rolled back to his feet, resulting in a double-bogey five. On Sunday afternoon the Seoul, South Korea-born Hahn earned accolades from the revel-makers at the 16th hole when he rolled in a 19-foot birdie putt, celebrating with a “gangnam-style” victory dance and throwing his ball into the stands for some lucky souvenir-hunter.
Starting slowly relative to the blistering pace being set on the rain-softened greens and fairways of TPC Scottsdale, Hahn carded rounds of 71-67-70 over the first three days of the tournament, but found a new gear on Sunday and made a big move, putting together matching 31s on the front and back nines.
Opening on the tenth hole, James birdied five out of the last six holes on the back side, then came back with an eagle on the par-5 third, and birdies on seven and eight to match that score on the front side. His final round total of 62 was one of two on the day and for the tournament, and the second-lowest round posted on Sunday. The 62s posted by Hahn and Texan Ryan Palmer were the third-lowest rounds of the tournament, after a 61 posted by Scott Piercy, also on Sunday, and Phil Mickelson’s first-round 60.
The 9-under final round vaulted newly-minted PGA Tour member Hahn forty-two spots up the leaderboard to T-16 – momentum that he’ll hope to carry along with him to Pebble Beach in the coming week.