Ladies and gentlemen…THAT’S why Phil Mickelson is considered a short game genius.
In a display of near flawless golf, Phil showed us once again why he might be considered the greatest short game player ever to pick up a wedge, with all apologies to Seve and Tiger. Aside from the double bogey on 3, Phil was the swashbuckling maestro we have come to know throughout his career posting nine birdies, including SEVEN on the last 10 holes. But it was the closing stretch where the fireworks began.
After having a go at the driveable par 4 6th, Phil’s short game was on center stage from there on out. Hitting a sublime releasing pitch, Phil had a tap in for birdie, and, for all intents and purposes, could’ve thrown his custom Odyssey into the water and his score card would’ve hardly noticed.
Leaving himself short of the green on 17, Phil’s creativity with his wedges came out in full force. With a fluffy lie in the rough, he hit an open-bladed pitch that floated onto the fringe and just rolled like a putt center cut into the hole. It was the kind of signature shot that has come to define Mickelson, a beatiful, in tempo flop that was simply textbook.
And for as great as that pitch was, Phil one-upped himself the very next hole. As I said in the preview, 18 is the crown jewel of the Blue Monster, a challenging par 4 that’s a true four shotter. Again, short of the green, an absolutely stunning chip was bottoms the minute it left the clubface, just oozing confidence, and that was the scariest shot of the round.
Why? Because when Phil is confident and firing on all cylinders, he’s in Tiger’s class…and as Tiger proved in today’s round, Phil’s the only golfer playing at that level.
With respect to Jeev Milkha Singh and the others at the top of the leaderboard, Phil is the class of the tournament at this point. But lets put his round in perspective for a second…a back nine 30, a stretch of nine holes where only 8 putts were carded, nine birdies in 10 holes, and a full display of every shot in a golfer’s repertoire. When Phil plays like this, he’s an absolute blast to watch.
Now, is this, as Phil put it, a time where, “from 50 yards in, I’m as good as I’ve ever been?” I’m not going that far, but when someone as talented with a wedge as Phil is, is hitting confident chips and pitches that don’t leave the middle of the cup, there’s going to be some flash. He had three perfect chip ins today…that’s not often seen at a PGA stop.
We love Phil around the greens, but we all cringe at times when he’s on the tee, spraying shots all over the course. Today, the driver was behaving, as the new Callaway FT-9 he’s put in the bag was launching bombs all over the place. After experimenting with driver shafts, for what seemed like a weekly basis since the TOUR Championship, he’s finally seemed to settle on a combination that works, and that’s when Phil can just overwhelm a course, especially one that puts a premium on length.
So, yea, Phil was absurd today. It’s an absolute joy to watch when someone like him is firing away at everything, and today was one of those rounds. He’s been inconsistent this year, with flashes of brilliance like two and a half of his rounds at Riviera, so who knows if he can sustain this over three more days?
I’m not saying he’s a lock to win, but based on his past successes here, most notably the 2006 shootout with Tiger, and the fact that his game was running smooth, if he CAN keep it up, he’s winning going away. This was an awesome performance this afternoon, I hope you caught it because it was fantastic. I really hope this isn’t just a flash in the pan and is a sign of Phil returning to the form he showed when he was a brainfart from three straight majors, because if it is, we might be in store for something BIG.
PS: I realize at this point in Tuna Golf’s brief history, I’ve been ridiculously hyperbolic, but this was just awesome. I’m a Phil fan and I want him to challenge Tiger like we all hope he will, and I’m really bullish after what I saw today. So…deal with it.