It was largely a foregone conclusion that Phil Mickelson, barring a string of Winged Foot-esque blunders, would win his third Phoenix Open title.
With a final-round 67 Sunday, Mickelson did just that.
He entered the final round with a six-stroke lead over Brandt Snedeker at 24-under. Padraig Harrington, who vaulted up the leaderboard Saturday with a spectacular 63, and Ryan Moore were seven strokes back.
Before the final round, Mickelson had this to say about Snedeker:
“I know how good [he] is and how hot he can get with a putter. He can make birdie from just about anywhere. He’s going to make a run tomorrow. I, hopefully, will be able to keep pace.”
As the players made the turn, Snedeker had closed Mickelson’s lead to just three strokes with birdies at six, seven and nine. It appeared Mickelson’s prediction was coming true. However, when Snedeker found his tee shot beneath a Jumping Cholla on the 13th hole, forcing him to take an unplayable lie, victory began to look like an increasingly remote possibility.
Mickelson, for his part, reached the 13th in two with a pured fairway wood and two-putted for a birdie — a four-shot lead with five holes to play. A stellar par-saving putt at the next allowed Mickelson to take his foot off the gas, somewhat, and enjoy the pageantry of the closing holes the the Phoenix Open.
The last bit of drama came at the short par-4 17th hole where Mickelson was a couple paces from finding the water with his tee shot. In classic Mickelson fashion, the golfer played a lofted pitch from near the edge of hazard to the green and holed the birdie putt to go 28-under for the tournament.
Snedeker carded a final-round 65 for his second runner-up finish in the last two weeks on Tour.. His final tally would have won every Phoenix Open except two since 1932, a measure of the quality of Mickelson’s play.
Moore was six-under for the day, but still finished six shots behind Mickelson and one shot behind Scott Piercy, who got around in a blistering 10-under 61. Harrington didn’t have his best stuff on the final day and finished in a tie for ninth, one-under for the day and 17-under for the tournament.
The 2013 edition of “The Greatest Show on Grass” was a love story, really. Mickelson planted a kiss on his Callaway RAZR Fit Xtreme driver early in the tournament. The Arizona State alumnus swung the club with incredible confidence since putting it in his bag to begin the week.
“I’m really ecstatic about the way I’m driving it this week but also about the long-term effects that this driver can have,” Mickelson said.
He should be ecstatic. Hitting 50 percent of his fairways across four days of competition enabled Mickelson to reach a staggering 83 percent of green in regulation for the tournament.
A pre-tournament tune-up with coach Butch Harmon paid dividends for the golfer, as well. Harmon reportedly flattened out his star pupil’s swing, according to multiple reports. Whatever the two worked on, it seems to be working
Mickelson’s opening-round run at 59, which ended with a heartbreaking lip-out at the last and a tap-in for 60, sent shockwaves through the golfing world. With his second round 65, the left-hander tied Marc Calcavecchia for the lowest two round total in tournament history.
Highlighted by a near-hole-in-one in front of 20,000 fans amidst the singular insanity that is the 16th hole amphitheater, Mickelson’s third-round 64 put him in prime position to extend a remarkable streak — he now has at least one victory in each of the last 10 years.
The golfer’s year thus far didn’t betray any signs of the eruption which was to take place in the Arizona desert this week. In fact, prior to this week’s victory, it seemed Mickelson’s most notable volcanic explosion of the early part of 2013 would be his commentary on his tax rate and suggestions that he might leave California.
Suffering from flu-like symptoms early in his first tournament of the year, Mickelson turned in pedestrian result at the Humana Challenge, finishing in a tie for 37th. At last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, Mickelson only managed to make it around Torrey Pines at even par, finishing in a tie for 51st.
With the first wire-to-wire victory since Rory McIlroy’s triumph at the 2011 U.S. Open, Mickelson has announced himself as a serious contender for the Masters in April, where he last won in 2010.