Monday, February 13

Phil on Fire

Phil Mickelson (Courtesy of Ed via Flickr)
WE ALREADY KNEW PHIL MICKELSON likes playing the West Coast Swing, where he has won with regularity throughout his 20-year PGA Tour career. And we already knew that he is especially fond of the Monterey Peninsula, where Lefty has now won four times after his brilliant closing 64 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

But did any longtime observer of this game ever think Phil Mickelson would own Tiger Woods on Sunday?

I didn’t see it coming. Then again, the last few years have dished out more surprises than Adele has Grammys.’s Senior Golf Columnist Steve Elling may have said it best. “Being a complete adrenaline junkie,” Elling wrote, “playing with Woods is like sticking his [Mickelson’s] tongue in a light socket.”

Phil is 8-3-1 against Tiger in their last dozen head-to-head duels. As Elling reported, the turnaround came in 2007 when Butch Harmon, Tiger’s former swing coach, let Phil in on Tiger’s mind games. Things haven’t been the same since.

Mickelson took charge early in the final round at Pebble. He made three birdies and an eagle in the first six holes and never looked back. Third-round leader Charlie Wi, in search of his first PGA Tour win, stumbled out of the gate with a double bogey at the 1st hole and carded a 3-over 39 on the opening nine. Wi fought back with four birdies, but it was too late.

The par-3 12th hole told Sunday’s story. Tiger willed a bunker shot into the hole for a birdie. Fist pump. Low five with amateur partner Tony Romo. Then Phil dropped a 30-footer for a heroic par. Game, set and match to Mickelson.

Sunday’s victory was No. 40 for the 41-year-old. Nice symmetry. The aging arthritic golfer still has game and perhaps a few more wins in him. Nothing makes you feel young like seeing the ball go in the hole.

“I just feel like I’m putting like I did when I was a kid,” Lefty said, “without the thoughts and the mind clutter.”

It’s just the opposite for Tiger, at least on Sundays. His final-round 75 included numerous short misses. Forget the swing. He needs to clean up the putting. For all the talk about his long game, it was the immaculate putting that propelled Tiger’s assault on the record books. Now it may be the thing that keeps him out of them.


Troy Vayanos said...

I was interested to read about Butch Harmons words to Phil about Tiger's mind games.

The one I read was that Tiger likes to hole out first on the 1st green so that the crowd starts to move and head towards the next tee. This is supposed to be distracting to the other player and put them off their game right from the start.

Unknown said...

It was a day we'll never forget, but I'm sure Tiger wishes he could.

I'd love to know what those mind games were that Butch shared :)


The Armchair Golfer said...

Me too, Gayle. Yeah, Troy, I think I remember reading about the "holing out first" ploy.

Anonymous said...

Troy said it...really it's nothing significant hole out first.....

Tiger needs to play like he plays the first 3 rounds,he falters on Sunday cuz he still has no confidence in his new swing.

Tentative & defensive golf,Tiger doesn't do well at, yet that has been his game plan the last 4 yrs.

Woods will be even better than he was when this new swing pattern settles into his system.You can still see the worried look before shots,once he can approach a shot without worry.....look out folks.

If I were Woods you couldn't get me to change my swing that brought he majors under Harmon...but then again Tiger is very Golf scientific,he sees & understand more than most about golf.

The Armchair Golfer said...

There's more to it than his swing.

Anonymous said...

Yes Armchair Golfer...Woods is still not confident with the swing....I think he will get there but as of now there are all kind of swing positions circulating in his head before some shots...just observe how many times he rehearses a shot he is not confident making.

He will get's similar to learning anything new,there will be errors or mistakes but eventually it will become second nature.

Once he develops confidence in his new swing his putting will fall in line.
Give it time...I say if he does not catch on this year,then something is wrong.

I know cuz he is the Tiger,we all expect him to get it in 4days..."nothing worth having comes easily".

He will get it this year.