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Mickelson lips out a chance at 59

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Phil Mickelson tried to walk it home and he nearly did.

“I couldn’t envision which side of the hole it could possibly miss on, and it ended up somehow just dying off at the end, catching the lip,” Mickelson said.

Jim “Bones” Mackay, Mickelson’s caddy, took a hop, a side-step and then collapsed to his knees as the putt for 59 lipped out.

“He could not have hit a better putt,” Mackay said.

Although TPC Scottsdale might not be considered hallowed golfing ground, the 11 birdies that Mickelson had made caught the attention of some tortured golfing soul, who decreed that enough was enough, that Mickelson would not enter the pantheon of those who break 60. For all of us, 11 birdies in a round would be a highlight that might surpass the birth of a child or an acceptance to an Ivy League school. For a professional golfer like Mickelson, it was an opportunity to make 12, and he certainly tried.

The round began on the back side of the course known for its rocking fans. After approach shots inside 10 feet led to birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 (his first two holes of the day), Mickelson nearly aced No. 12, stuffing an iron to two feet for a third-consecutive birdie. A wayward drive to the native area in the No. 13 fairway nearly cost Mickelson a shot, as he was forced to pitch out some 90 yards, leaving over 160 in. Undaunted, he stuffed yet another approach to two feet, for a fourth-consecutive strike against par. After a terrific lag putt from more than 50 feet on his fifth hole, Mickelson had another chance at a stroke-save, but missed an eight-foot birdie try on No. 15.

Coming to the stadium setting on the famous par-3 16th, Mickelson’s efforts to move the needle were rewarded as he slipped an approach 17 feet from the hole and then nailed the putt to reach five-under. Two more birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 (from four and 15 feet, respectively) brought the southpaw to seven-under and the crowd to its feet.

The train found little reason to slow its pace as the back nine commenced. Lefty buried a 22-footer on No. 1 (his 10th hole) and a 13-foot effort on No. 4. Sandwiched between were an up-and-down par on No. 2 and a tap-in from a foot and a half on No. 3. Looking back at the round, the recovery for par on the second hole kept the momentum going. After a hot approach that flew long and left of the green, Mickelson pitched to 11 feet with his third, but coaxed the par putt home.

Standing on No. 5 tee, Mickelson had to know that two more birdies would bring him to 12-under par, a 59 against TPC-Scottsdale’s par of 71. The way his game had revealed itself to that point, who among the crowd would have bet against him? On Wednesday, Phil Mickelson shared his affinity for the course with reporters:

“The thing I love about TPC Scottsdale is its risk-reward,” Mickelson told reporters. “You have so many opportunities to go for it, try to make birdies or eagles, but with great penalty if you don’t pull the shot off because there’s so much water, especially the last six, seven holes of the golf course.”

The risk-reward design of the course nearly derailed his march against history. An average approach from 160 yards led to a 43-foot, two-putt for par on No. 5, followed by a near-mucking of No. 6. After his new Callaway driver put him in the left rough, Mickelson once again caught a flyer and sailed the green, leaving a pitch-back of some 10 yards. Lefty snuggled the ball inside five feet and drained a twitchy little nod to keep hope alive.

The swashbuckler strode to No. 7’s tee and stuck an iron inside seven feet, as if to say “Yes, I can birdie all the par 3s.” And he did, knocking the approach putt in for the fourth two on his scorecard.

“Probably the best shot of the day because it’s a tucked little pin over that bunker and I hit a 6-iron to four or five feet,” Mickelson said. “It was really a good shot from 196 yards.”

Moving to No. 8, his penultimate, the game was truly on. In order to gain access to a small and heralded corps, Mickelson would need to find a way to birdie one of two par 4 holes that exceeded 460 yards in length. A two-putt par from 18 feet set the stage for the last-hole ebb and flow that tied the course record and staked Mickelson to an early four-stroke lead.

Mickelson hinted that he was close to the game he wanted each of the last two weeks. Might Tiger Woods’ victory at Torrey Pines, Mickelson’s San Diego home turf, have inspired Lefty to ratchet his game up? Check around Sunday night for the answer.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Ronald Montesano

    Feb 3, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Roy…Sounding like Sergio~

    Mulligain…yes and yes.

  2. Mulliagain

    Feb 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Great round and a great putt!

  3. Roy Jones

    Feb 3, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Fate hates the big oaf and loves Tiger

  4. Ronald Montesano

    Feb 2, 2013 at 6:35 am

    Troy…I agree~it was a great putt. I suspect that our putting experts would say that the putt was a prime candidate to lip out, however. It was bending and picking up speed, not dying at the hole. All it needed to do was hit an edge (as it did) and fate would take over. That it did the horrible horseshoe was worse for Phil and Bones.

    Remember too, that Phil made a few great saves off camera to get to that point. Funny how he could have gone 58 or 57, as he only played -1 over the final 5 holes. What a magical round.

  5. Troy Vayanos

    Feb 1, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Great round of golf by Mickelson.

    Still can’t believe that last putt lipped out. Phil has continued the hot form through today shooting a six under 65.

    Can he keep it going for 36 more holes?

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Tour News

It’s the Ardmore! Woods begins Quicken Loans National with TaylorMade putter in the bag

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If you had a bet going with your buddies that there was no way Tiger Woods would depart from his beloved 13 major-winning Scotty Cameron Newport 2 GSS this week, you lose.

Woods started the first round of the Quicken Loans National with the TaylorMade Ardmore 3 he has been practicing all week with at TPC Potomac.

Adam Schupak spotted Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, on the way to the first tee for Woods’ 1:20 ET start time with the camo TaylorMade putter cover in the bag (not surprisingly, the TaylorMade Ardmore 3 was beneath the cover).

Woods has struggled with the putter this season, as we’re all well aware, particularly since the Memorial. No. 89 on Tour in strokes gained: putting, the 14-time major champion knew he had to do something.

“I’m trying to find something that I can feel again, like the swing of the putter, getting my body in the right positions and seeing the lines again,” Woods said. “You know, it’s just one of those things, once I start to get the ball rolling on my lines, then I’ll be back to putting like I was. I just have not been rolling it on my lines. And then on top of that, when they don’t roll on lines, then I have a hard time seeing my lines and it’s a vicious cycle. And I’m just trying to get out of that cycle.”

Woods reportedly tried a number of TaylorMade putters in the Bahamas last week, arriving (as far as we know) at the Quicken Loans National with just the Ardmore and his Newport to choose between.

He has made his choice for the first round. We’ll see how it pans out and whether Woods remains a mallet man all week.

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5 things we learned on Sunday of the 2018 U.S. Open

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Opportunity knocked for so many golfers, yet it was the 2017 champion who seized the moment when it was his. Brooks Koepka fired his second sub-par round of the week on Sunday to separate from playing partner Dustin Johnson, and enter the pantheon of multiple major champions. He became the 7th player to defend his title, joining old-school legends like Willie Anderson and John McDermott, mid-century icons like Ralph Guldahl and Ben Hogan, and the last man to accomplish the feat, Curtis Strange. With that introduction, let’s move to the main event, the 5 things we learned on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills.

5) The USGA gave golf a chance

True to its word, the USGA pulled out all the stops in the wee hours of Sunday morn. The course set-up team ensured that enough water was distributed to putting surfaces, that worthy shots would not be punished. Hole locations were assessed and confirmed, also ensuring that multiple opportunities for success were available. As a result, 15 golfers turned in scores under par of 70, highlighted by Tommy Fleetwood’s 7-under stunner. Although many fans, writers and players were quick to assault the organizers for losing control of the course, the USGA reminded us that it always had control of the conditions at Shinny, and that its only mistake was to soar too close to the sun.

4) Captain America ran out of gas

If Patrick Reed had been able to sign his card on the 9th tee, when he stood 5-under on the day and 1-over for the tournament, he would be in a playoff with the eventual champion as I type. Unfortunate for this year’s Masters champion was that 10 holes remained. Reed promptly bogeyed the 9th, added 3 more bogeys on the inward half, and summoned just one birdie toward the end. His fourth-place finish was his best in a U.S. Open, but knowing that victory was in the cards will sting for a while.

3) DJ and Finau gave it a run

Where to begin? How about this: DJ had four bogeys on Sunday. He totaled that many on Thursday-Friday combined. He had birdies, too, but couldn’t find the game that possessed him over the opening 36 holes. Oddly enough, this type of experience won’t be a setback for the 2016 champion. After all, he came back from a career-killer in 2015, when he 3-whacked his way out of a playoff with Jordan Spieth at Chambers Bay. As for Milton Pouhau Finau, aka Tony, the Utah native had never before been in the final group on any day of a major professional championship. He acquitted himself well, standing even on the day and 3-over for T2 at the 18th tee. Knowing that he needed eagle for a playoff might have taken the final winds from his sails, and he limped home with double bogey and solo third. Looking ahead to the final August playing of the PGA Championship, Bellerive near St. Louis might just be his type of course.

2) Tom Terrific nearly made his own U.S. Open history

I’ll write this cautiously, as I’m certain I would have intimated in the 1980s and 90s that Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood would have been major champions by now. Tommy Fleetwood ought to win one of these things soon. His record-tying 63 was a short putt away from a record-breaking 62. Eight birdies against a single bogey was the stuff of legend, and if only he had trusted that final putt a bit higher on the break … that’s not fair. Fleetwood right now is the fellow to watch at Carnoustie next month. Bet a few quid or bob or whatever on the Southport native, as he should contend for the title.

1) Brooks cooks up a winning broth

It’s easy to look back and see all the great shots that the defending champion hit over the four days of the 2018 U.S. Open, shots that would win him his second consecutive trophy. Remember that 60-feet bomb to save par on Saturday? Shades of Costantino Rocca. How about the approach shots to within mere feet that earned him 5 birdies on Sunday, including a competition-killer on 16? Koepka was the guy we thought Dustin Johnson would be. Perhaps it was the time off for wrist rehabilitation early this season that gave him the burning desire to win. Out for nearly 4 months, Koepka had plenty of time to ponder what he achieved last June in Wisconsin, and what might lay ahead for him. The begged question is, does the most recent, two-time major winner have the game to acquire more of the game’s cherished trophies?

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

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Wednesday’s Photos from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills

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GolfWRX is live from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (par 70; 7,440 yards) in Southhampton, New York. The U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock for the first time since 2004 when Retief Goosen won (he failed to qualify for the 2018 event).

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Phil Mickelson, who has two top-5 finishes at Shinnecock Hills, will seek to fill out his career Grand Slam with a win this week. Also, it’s Tiger Woods’ 10-year anniversary of winning the legendary 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines — that was his most recent major championship victory.

Also in the field are headliners Dustin Johnson (now ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings), Justin Thomas (No. 2), Justin Rose (No. 3), Jon Rahm (No. 4) and Jordan Spieth (No. 5).

Brooks Koepka (No. 9) is the defending champion; he won last year by four shots for his first and only major so far in his career.

Check out our photos from Shinnecock Hills below!

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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