Beware of the ailing Lefty

DORAL, Fla. – Winner of the most recent two-man race at the Blue Monster, Phil Mickelson, who late Saturday night was hooked into two IV bags, now has two wins this season. Padraig Harrington, you might recall, has the last two majors. And though his winning percentage (zilch) over the last two events might not register, Tiger Woods has returned on two legs.

You excited for Augusta, too?

Mickelson, who moved to No. 2 in the world with his one-shot victory over similarly-coached Nick Watney Sunday in the WGC-CA Championship on Doral’s Blue course, loves to push conversations toward the Masters around this time of year.

Doral, Lefty said, is the start to his “run to Augusta,” a phrase that should be officially trademarked by the Mickelson camp as soon as possible.

“This is all part of the process,” said Mickelson after consecutive weekend 69s and six consecutive pars down the stretch – some easy, some queasy – to hold off a streaking Watney, who closed with a 2-under 70 capped by a 30-footer for birdie that stopped one immeasurable golf ball-rotation short on the edge of the cup.

“I enjoy this process of competing, being in the final group, tied for the lead, against a player who is playing some terrific golf, feeling that pressure, feeling that intensity, and how important each shot is throughout the entire round. All of that adds to helping me play better in the majors,” said Mickelson, who all week showed off his new philosophies for driving (“just standing up and ripping at it”) and short-game (“simplifying my techniques”) that couldn’t have him “any more excited... for Augusta to get here.”

For the record, this Mickelsonian “Run to Augusta” (now trademarked, we’ll assume – note the capital “R”) started with a very, slow, walk.

This week, Mick was sick, four rounds in the 60s or not. He won wire-to-wire, tired-and-tired. We just didn’t know it until about two hours before his 1:45 Sunday tee time, when word came down that Mickelson had been taken to a local hospital and hooked up to a pair of IV bags Saturday night for what he later called some sort of “virus-type issue” – but, Mickelsonically speaking, what else is new?

No Lefty, no drama, no need to wash your hands.

Do understand there was probably a reason Mickelson didn’t conduct his post-round interview with NBC’s Roger Maltbie on the 18th green. Mickelson waved to the crowd, gave a thumbs-up or two, walked into the scoring hut, signed his card and then dropped horizontally.

“He’s not blowing you guys off, he’s just laying down in there,” said caddie Jim Mackay, who looked after Lefty all night long, at one point almost knocking down a bathroom door for fear that Mickelson had passed out in the bathtub.

When Lefty reappeared, Maltbie approached him to shake hands and Mickelson declined, saying “I don’t want to get you sick man.” After the interview, they actually shook hands without thinking, so don’t be surprised if Maltbie either gets sick or, come to think of it, wins in Tampa next week.

Lefty also mentioned to a congratulating cop, “Better wash your hands though,” which, by the look on the cop’s face, was certainly arresting.

“I was with him all last night,” said Mckay, who at about 8:30 Saturday night figured there was a 50/50 shot Mickelson would even play, “and it was not pretty.”

Mickelson, who told Maltbie on the air before the round “beware the ailing golfer,” a thematic phrase that popped up often in 2008 especially around the majors, said he hadn’t eaten for three days before Sunday, when he finally had a banana and half of a sandwich.

“I’m weak,” said Mickelson, who, for those counting at home, beat 2005 Duel at Doral winner Woods by eight shots. “I was just trying to maintain at an even pace. That’s why I’ve been so slow walking the last few days. You know, I’m 50 yards behind everybody. I’m not trying to intentionally play low. I told Nick, I’m not trying to slow-play here, it’s just going to take me a minute to get out here.”

So from tired we go to Watney, who was actually wired, of all things. “I don’t feel drained at all right now to be honest with you,” said Watney, like Mickelson also currently under the tutelage of Butch Harmon.

“I feel like I could play another round. Just kind of frustrated to be honest. Disappointed,” said Watney, already a winner Tour this year at the Buick Invitational on Mickelson’s home turf at Torrey Pines.

“It seems like a golf tournament lasts so long, and to play well and come up short like that, by one shot – kind of sucks.”

At this point, it is probably safer to assume Watney lost this tournament on the par-5 12th hole than it is to shake hands with Mickelson, who duck-hooked his drive on 12 into the vegetation right.

Watney, who eagled No. 10 but bogeyed 11 to drop a shot back, hit a great drive on 12, then watched Mickelson turn his 8-iron around and take a right-handed swing at his ball in something shrub-like, even after Mackay’s best efforts to talk him out of it.

“But he was right when he said he had hit that shot well in the past,” Mackay said. Mickelson hit “an amazing shot,” according to Mackay, but caught a palm tree and advanced his ball about 50 yards. That was Watney’s opening, which closed quickly with a pulled 4-iron into a tough lie in the left greenside bunker. Watney left his third shot in the same bunker, a surprising circumstance that also happened on No. 7, and eventually missed a 20-footer for par. Mickelson missed a 10-footer for par, yet escaped unscathed, if not completely healthy.

“Somebody asked me earlier if I'm going to look back on the putt on 18,” Watney said. “I’m going to look back at the putt on 12. I probably gave away two shots there. Disappointing.”

As he talked, Watney looked sick to his stomach, not long removed from his handshake with Mickelson on the 18th green.

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