It only took Phil Mickelson one hole to warm up before he posted his first birdie in the 110th US Open to ignite a rabid birdie tear at Pebble Beach. After taking par on the first, a birdie on the second sparked four more on the front nine, creating excitement to the ho-hum day. And as much as I hate to admit it, when Lefty catches fire, it’s fun to watch — it’s different than Tiger, but I suppose that’s what makes it special.
But on Friday, there was a buzz in the air that was reminiscent of the kind only Tiger was able to incite. I seized my first glance of Phil on the 8th hole, where I had camped out for the past hour to watch one of the best approach shots in golf.
Before Phil rolled around, I’d seen a dozen other golfers pass by the 8th. Naturally, out of all the approaches I saw, his was the most aggressive. I was sitting on the grass 30 yards short of the green on the left hillside with a perfect view of the cup. As I watched Phil’s ball fly mid-air toward the dime-size green, I was already shaking my head with disbelief (but I was impressed). It was going straight at the pin, landing just right of it and spinning about 10 feet away from the cup and just a smidgen above the hole.
Right then, you got the feeling he was going to walk off the green with another birdie. As he walked down the fairway, the crowd came alive, crying out, “PHIL!” One woman standing near me changed the cliche cheer, “Phil, Phil, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, no one can.” (Except Tiger — at least the “old” Tiger.)
As it happened, the right-to-left slider Phil hit for his birdie on 8 was one of the prettier moments of the week. In fact, it was a beautiful putt. After Phil had dug his ball out of the cup, Padraig Harrington, shaking his head in disbelief, gave him one of those I-can’t-believe-you-just-did-that-but-I-can-because-it’s-your-day smiles.
On the 12th, Phil flew his approach shot over the green, but easily managed to convert for a par from the back right side of the green to a front left pin, knocking his chip to tap-in range. As he strolled to the 13th tee, he stopped to high-five a fan while “Let’s go, Phil!” chants roared from tee to green.
Thumbs up, Lefty.
[Photos by Donald Miralle/Getty Images]