5 Things: Can Mickelson go wire-to-wire at WMPO?
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Phil Mickelson's full genius has been on display through three rounds at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. On Saturday, in front of a record crowd of 179,022 at TPC Coliseum – er, Scottsdale – Mickelson wowed fans with his short-game artistry. He birdied the final four holes and five of the last six to shoot 7-under 64 for a 54-hole total of 189 and a six-stroke lead over Brandt Snedeker. Here are 5 Things you need to know.
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1. WIRE-TO-WIRE? Phil Mickelson said his game was "fractionally off all day," but it's safe to say he won't need another emergency session with instructor Butch Harmon before Sunday's final round. The two worked together for more than an hour on the eve of the tournament.
"It was just a minor tweak, and all of a sudden the club is back on plane and I'm hitting it the way I was," Mickelson said. "I felt like I was ready to click."
When pressed to describe the "minor tweak," Mickelson, said, "My turn going back was tilting a little bit. So I just got more level."
On Saturday, Mickelson stayed patient on the front nine and finished with a flurry of birdies to build a commanding six-stroke lead. He credited his bunker play for birdies at the two par-5s on the back nine – Nos. 13 and 15. A chorus of "A-S-U," a shout-out to his alma mater Arizona State University, greeted him when he marched through the tunnel at No. 16. He gave the fans what they had waited all day for in the hot Phoenix sun, subtracting 5 yards for the adrenaline rush and sticking his "stock 9-iron" tee shot inside 2 feet.
"It was a pretty good shot," Mickelson said afterwards, with a smirk.
A sweet pitch from the short side on No. 17 kept the birdie streak alive, and after a wayward drive left on No. 18, Mickelson recovered beautifully and capped the round by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt.
Since opening with 60 in the first round, Mickelson, 42, who has 40 career victories on Tour, has held the lead. Going wire-to-wire is one of the toughest things to do on the PGA Tour. Padraig Harrington may have put it best: "The pressure is on not to mess up."
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2. HOW 'CRAZY' LOW CAN HE GO? Brandt Snedeker shot a 6-under 65 on "Moving Day," and moved up the leader board into second place despite losing a shot to Mickelson. That's how good Mickelson is playing this week. When a reporter asked Snedeker how "crazy he could afford to get" in the final round, he didn't mince words.
"Very crazy," Snedeker said. "You know, I'm not playing for second. I have already had one of those this year. You play to win, and I'm going to try to win tomorrow."
Snedeker said he achieved his primary goal by working his way into the final pairing.
"That way, if I get hot," Snedeker said, "he can see it first-hand."
Don't expect Mickelson to underestimate his closest competitor.
"I know how good Snedeker is and how hot he can get with a putter," Mickelson said. "He can make a birdie from just about anywhere. He's going to make a run tomorrow. I hopefully will be able to keep pace, and that's the first order of business."
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3. CRAZINESS AT 16: Allow me to gush for a moment. The 16th at TPC Scottsdale is one of the best scenes in golf. Spectators sang "Ole, Ole, Ole," for Harrington and "Sweet Low, Sweet Chariot" to David Lynn. They asked Rickie Fowler if his sister, Taylor, was single.
Nothing matches the madness there on Saturday.
Players soak up the fun and continue to thank fans for their support with all sorts of gifts. Bubba Watson tossed Ping visors; Hunter Mahan threw fans brand-new pairs of sunglasses. But the best of all had to be Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who kicked footballs into the crowd. Hey, it's Super Bowl weekend, so why not?
Harrington said it was the first time he had ever kicked an American football. Playing competitor Hunter Mahan said he was unaware of Harrington's plan. "My first thought was, 'I hope he doesn't pull a hammy here,' " Mahan said.
Harrington impressed. He said he hooked his first couple of attempts, but sent his final effort soaring over the grandstand and between the cross bars. The San Francisco 49ers would welcome such form on Super Bowl Sunday.
Harrington, who is playing the WMPO for the first time, soaked in the singing, the Irish flags and the green shirts worn by spectators as part of Saturday's "green-out."
"It's hard to believe in the desert of Phoenix, I would feel so at home," Harrington said.
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4. PADDY ON GOLF: Padraig Harrington kicking a football made what those in the business call "Good TV." But he saved his best for the press center after the round. Rather than tell you about his 63, which lifted him into a tie for third, eight strokes back, let me share my favorite portion of his 1,850-word answer to a question of nearly the same length posed by Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee. I'll condense his question to this: Why haven't you won in America or Europe in four years? His answer was fascinating and quite complex (I did mention it was 1,850 words, right?). I'm going to focus on one specific passage. Harrington identified what he – and I, and maybe you too – love so much about golf.
"You know, I saw Arnold Palmer when he was 70 years of age being interviewed after a Champions Tour event, and he came off the golf course absolutely brimming. Smile from one ear to the other, saying, 'He'd found the secret,' " Harrington said. "I want to be that man. I want to be 70 years of age out playing golf and just loving it, just the excitement of it all. The possibility of it getting better is far more interesting to me than the realization that it's never going to get better than this."
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5. ON YOUR MARK, GET SET, GO: Caddie races -- a sprint from tee to green after the last tee shot is hit with the first to touch the green declared the winner -- have been growing in popularity at the 16th hole each year. The most-highly anticipated heat of the day matched The Brothers Henley -- Brent (caddie for Robert Garrigus) and Kip (caddie for Brian Gay) -- and they did not disappoint.
Ducking around cacti and dancing through the desert, they lugged their golf bags on their backs in pursuit of bragging rights. Brent jumped the gun and led early, but he dropped his water bottle, lost his footing and face-planted into the turf. He got up and attempted to hip-check his brother, Kip, to no avail.
Later, Kip tweeted: "That was a blast. Brent Boy had me so dusted, and I think he ate it on purpose. Always great going out with the bro."
It summed up a great day for golf fans attending the tournament. And for some, the fun was just beginning when the sun went down at The Bird's Nest.