Ahead of 'The Match,' a reminder of how good Phil Mickelson is on a casual day

SOUTHAMPTON, NY - JUNE 16: Phil Mickelson of the United States smiles on the third green during the third round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on June 16, 2018 in Southampton, New York. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images) Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Ahead of 'The Match,' a reminder of how good Phil Mickelson is on a casual day

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Ahead of 'The Match,' a reminder of how good Phil Mickelson is on a casual day

The Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson match is less than a month away, and a lot of people are hyped. There’s so much talk that HBO has revealed its 24/7 series will follow each player in the lead-up to “The Match.”

But before embarking on this high-priced duel, we figured it was time for a quick reminder.

“The Match” has had its detractors as a meaningless publicity grab and an exhibition that would’ve been cooler 10 years ago. The form of Mickelson hasn’t helped matters, as he has had just one top 10 since his March victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship and finished last at the Tour Championship.

A few might wonder if it’s worth watching Mickelson struggle to a bunch of pars, bogeys or worse against Woods.

But “The Match” isn’t a PGA Tour event, and Golf.com’s Luke Kerr-Dineen made an excellent point a few months ago about the true quality of the best players in the world in a more casual setting than the rigors of competitive tour golf:

So when catching up recently with Shane Ffrench, a San Diego teenager who’s a 2020 USC commit, it made sense to get his recollection of playing a round at The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe with Mickelson over this summer.

It came at some time in June or July, a stretch where Mickelson didn’t have a top 10 and was outside the top 45 in half his events. So he wasn’t exactly playing his best in tournament competition.

And yet …

Ffrench recalls that he got the opportunity thanks to the fact Anthony Paolucci is friends with Mickelson. The five-time major champion texted the former USC player (and current pro) to play when Paolucci and Ffrench happened to be together that day.

It would turn into a foursome including ex-Arizona State player (and current pro) Alberto Sanchez. Of course with Mickelson, there was a contest made out of it. The match teams would be Ffrench and Mickelson vs. Paolucci and Sanchez.

What did Mickelson do? He birdied the first five holes and played the front nine in 7-under 29.

“It was absurd,” Ffrench said. “I’ve never seen that many birdies just so casual. Just stripe it to 12 feet, make the 12-footer, walk to the next hole.”

The round also included some classic Mickelson short-game wizardry, with Ffrench relaying the memory of a crazy flop shot the lefty executed: A short-sided strike off a downhill lie in a bunker that landed “as soft as a pillow.”

Ffrench says Mickelson got tied up on a phone call early in the back nine and didn’t have his best stuff after that. Still, the opening nine holes were enough of an eye-opener.

As you might suspect, yes Mickelson brought plenty of trash-talk. Any time Paolucci or Sanchez made a putt early in the round, Mickelson would chime in along the lines of: Oh that’s going to matter … you’re going to lose 4 and 3 instead of 5 and 4 this time.

(Good thing “The Match” will have Mickelson and Woods mic’d up!)

And for the record, yes Mickelson and Ffrench won the overall match handily (hard not to with an opening 29).

The teenage playing partner still takes a lot from the experience.

“It was really inspiring just knowing that someone like that’s come out of the same place that I’ve come out of,” Ffrench said. “I feel very fortunate to be able to play with him.”

Again, just a friendly reminder … even the best have to fight to break par sometimes in PGA Tour events.

But put Mickelson and Woods in an exhibition on a gettable course, and the amount of birdies or better could be insane.

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