One week after a desultory showing at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Phil Mickelson made an about face, performance-wise, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Golf fans who had been wondering “What’s up with Phil?” after he barely squeaked in over the cut line at Torrey Pines and finished T-51, watched in amazement as he came back the following week in Phoenix with a near record-breaking performance in the first two days.
Mickelson, a native of San Diego who grew up playing golf on the two courses at the Torrey Pines golf complex, could manage no better than a 70 in any round during last week’s tournament, shooting 72-71-75-70 – 288 to finish 14 strokes back of tournament winner Tiger Woods.
One week later Mickelson came to Phoenix – where he attended college at Arizona State University – with a new driver in his bag, and proceeded to make mincemeat of TPC Scottsdale, blistering the place with rounds in the low 60s in the first two days of the tournament: an 11-under 60 that came up 5 inches and a lipout short of a record-setting 58 on Thursday, and a Friday 65 that included an eagle and a double-bogey.
Lefty has never been shy about making equipment changes – he has, in the past, shown up on-course with two drivers in his bag, or none; or with a vintage Ping wedge with grandfathered “illegal” grooves. Acknowledging that his poor performance off the tee in the Farmers Insurance Open had kept him at the back of the pack, he got hold of the latest driver on offer from his equipment sponsor, Callaway – the new Razr Fit Xtreme. With 3.5° more loft than the driver it replaced, and dialed in with a 5-gram weight in the toe and a 3-gram weight in the heel, Phil found the club to his liking, and put it in his bag to come to Phoenix.
After playing Wednesday’s pro-am round with the new driver, Phil was grooved-in and confident with the new club. Starting his round on the back nine, he swung with confidence off the tee. He birdied the first four holes, had two pars in the middle, then birdied the final three, carding a 7-under 29 on his opening nine. The buzz started to pick up when he kicked off his second nine with yet another birdie, and the phrase “59 watch” was being thrown about. After another pair of back-to-back birdies, at holes 3 and 4, all eyes were on Phil’s game – Golf Channel even interrupted its regularly-scheduled programming to go to live coverage of the remainder of Phil’s round.
After stiffing his tee shot to within a few feet of a tough left-side flag position at the par-3 seventh hole, Mickelson rolled in the birdie putt to go to 11 under as his gallery swelled to encompass what looked like half of the spectators on the course.
Birdies at eight and nine would give him 58 – and a new record low score in a PGA Tour event. Just one birdie between the two would land him in the PGA Tour’s “59” club (Membership: 6), where he would be the only southpaw.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. His 17' 9" uphill birdie putt at the 8th hole pulled up about 2 1⁄2 turns short of the hole. His last chance for a 59 came at the ninth, with a 24 1/2-foot birdie putt. Tracking straight and true all the way, the ball went the slightest bit right just before the hole, caught the right edge and swooped around the cup in a gravity-defying 180° lipout.
After the intensity, and disappointment, of the concluding holes of his Thursday round, Phil seemed to come out of the gate a little flat on Friday, carding six pars in a row before picking up a stroke with a birdie on the par-3 seventh. Hitting his stride, Mickelson racked up four more birdies in the next seven holes, then he stepped up his game with an eagle on the par-5 fifteenth – just a routine drive of 350+, a 188-yard 8-iron to within 3 feet of the flag on the island green and a virtual tap-in for a three. Another birdie at the 17th hole put him eight under, but he gave two shots back with double-bogey at 18 after his only significant fairway miss of the tournament.
The near-miss of the 59 on Thursday and double-bogey finish on Friday combined to deny Mickelson another potential scoring record – with a par at the eighteenth hole on Friday he would have set a new low opening rounds mark of 123. The current record of 124 is jointly held by Pat Perez (2009 Humana Challenge) and David Toms (2011 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial).
Bay Area golf fans are anxious to see Phil bring the sterling performance he has been showing in Phoenix up to Pebble Beach next week, where he will defend his 2012 AT&T Pro-Am title.
The Bay Area’s James Hahn extended his perfect record for cuts made at the Waste Management Open, advancing to weekend play for the fourth time in four starts in his first season as a PGA Tour member. Hahn shot 71-67 to make the cut on the number at 4-under.