Phil Mickelson moved from here back to the San Diego area three years ago, but you’d never know it from the high decibels at the TPC of Scottsdale. The expressive spectators at the FBR Open loudly treat him as such a favored son that no golfer has as large of a home-course advantage anywhere on the PGA Tour as the Arizona State graduate does here.
The sign at the famous par-3 16th, where thousands of patrons drink and yell and fawn over Mickelson, was apropos. It read, “The House That Phil Built.” It was manned by five creative fellows from Minnesota who wore green jackets in honor of Mickelson’s major breakthrough victory at the Masters last year.
“You can’t describe the feeling from a player’s point of view to have that many people around one hole and to hit a good shot or make a good putt,” said Mickelson, who spent about 14 years of his life residing here in the desert. “It was cool.”
And the guys in the green blazers?
“Wasn’t that kind of funny?” Mickelson said. “Pretty cool.”
As it happened, the lefthander rode the cool love to a five-stroke victory Feb. 6, the largest margin among his 24 Tour titles.
“The people treat (wife) Amy and I so well here,” he said of the affection-fest. “It’s terrific coming here and winning because this tournament means so much to me. Even though we moved away, we still consider it home.”
Mickelson overcame a 4-over-par 39 on his first nine holes, shot into a tie for the lead with a second-round 60, built a four-stroke advantage on the last four holes of Round 3 and never let anyone get closer than three shots the final day despite missing seven fairways in a row. He’s now 13 of 17 converting when at least tied for the lead after 54 holes. Next a fair piece behind his 17-under 267 were Kevin Na, at 21 the Tour’s youngest player, and Scott McCarron, who shot 65-65 on the weekend after getting a swing tip from fellow veteran Tom Pernice Jr.
Mickelson’s victory and enthusiasm signals that he again seems on the verge of a successful season, like last year when he won at Augusta and contended down the stretch in the three other major championships.
He won here mainly because he averaged 26 putts per round. But there’s more. He says he’s hitting the ball farther than ever with a different brand than he used most of last year and a new Callaway Fusion 460cc prototype driver. Here’s an idea of how far the ball is going: He talked of “chipping” a driver on one hole, saying he “wanted to take 40-50 yards off of it and get it out there about 290 yards.”
“Sorry, I know it sounds bad,” said Mickelson when listeners laughed.
He called his tee-ball work in the middle two rounds his best ever. He says his game is better than ever because he’s a year into the irons distance-control work with instructors Rick Smith and Dave Pelz. He’s in full gush mode.
“I can’t wait to get back on the golf course,” said Mickelson, who also won here in 1996. “I’m excited about hitting chips or putts or tee shots. I can’t wait to get out to the course and practice. I’m loving playing and ecstatic about the way things are set up in my bag, the way things are set up on my practice sessions.”
Mickelson’s triumph is the latest suggestion that 2005 could be a special year because so many top players are in high form. The last four winners on Tour have won majors, starting with Vijay Singh at the Sony Open, Tiger Woods at the Buick Invitational and Justin Leonard at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Moreover, world No. 3 Ernie Els came close to winning the first two events in Hawaii.
“I really enjoy the challenge of competing against them,” he said. “It’s a fun challenge.”
Getting out of an early hole was a task for him. One key to victory was his second-nine 34 Thursday on a day when wind gusted to 35 mph, causing a 33-minute delay. The next day he birdied his last five holes in a course-record-tying 60 in no wind, vaulting into a midway tie with Na at 9-under 133.
“It was certainly one of my better rounds,” Mickelson said of his lowest official Tour round, one stroke higher than his unofficial 59 Nov. 24 in the PGA Grand Slam. Mickelson took only 23 putts, one-putting 11 times. He holed a 77-foot putt from fringe for eagle on No. 17, his eighth hole, and made a 30-footer for par on 11 after he drove into the desert and took a one-stroke, unplayable-lie penalty. He also made birdie putts of 30 and 12 feet and the rest inside of 6.
“I thought, ‘Is this guy going to shoot 59 again?’ ” scoreboard watcher Na said.
Mickelson and Na were tied entering No. 15 in the third round, but Na, appearing rattled, bogeyed two holes coming in while Mickelson saved par from 13 feet at 16 and birdied the last two to go up four shots.
One sensed it might be Mickelson’s day after he holed his first shot on the practice range, a wedge from about 110 yards, before the final round. Though he hit some loose drives Sunday, he repeatedly recovered. He again saved par despite taking a penalty stroke, and he took only 25 putts.
“My short game bailed me out,” he said.
“He never hit two bad shots in a row and made bogey,” Na said. “That was the key for him.”
That and thousands of loud friends.