Saturday at the WGC-Mexico Championship: Rory distracted, astonished and bemused with everything Phil
By Stephanie Wei under WGC

No need to look further than the names atop the leaderboard at the WGC-Mexico Championship to know whether or not the championship has been a success. And if you had any reservations or “concerns” about moving this event from its former longtime venue in South Florida to Mexico City, they’ve already been answered with the feedback from, well, everyone in the field.

However, I’d recommend watching a replay of the telecast if you missed Saturday’s third round coverage because it was probably some of the most entertaining golf I’ve seen in a while at a non-major and non-Ryder Cup. There was a bit of everything — Justin Thomas making an ace, Phil Mickelson continuing to hit it everywhere, holing out a couple times, and doubling down with some crazy rulings, Dustin Johnson’s impressive wedge play (don’t think I’ve ever typed those words together before), Rory McIlroy’s bewilderment, and Jordan Spieth posting a scorching eight-under 63 to make the most out of moving day (but he was probably too far back to start with to consider a contender in the final round — famous last words, though, right?).

WERE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? Because I certainly was. I haven’t been this pumped up about a non-major stroke play event in like, two years.

Mickelson didn’t disappoint with the most intriguing and strange rounds of golf (even for him!). His Saturday by the numbers, with some help from Golf Channel’s Justin Ray:

2 hole outs
3 rulings
4 fairways hit
6 birdies

The most bizarre event of the day — and this is saying something because there were a lot of crazy moments — occurred on the 10th hole. Mickelson hit his ball so far left that it ended up somewhere near the 18th.

A picture I just took with my phone of the ShotLink diagram:




As Phil approached the area where his drive allegedly went, he was informed that a fan had stolen the ball! Crazy, right? Well, actually, I’ve seen something similar happen before, except it was way more messed-up and strange, involving Tiger Woods at Quail Hollow in 2012. Mickelson got a free drop, flushed his next over the trees and onto the green 12 feet from the hole. Standard par.

Phil’s wacky adventures continued on the 11th, where he pushed yet another drive, but this one ended up in a huge bush. Somehow, there was also a sprinkler head in this mess, allowing Phil to take free relief. Seriously, the guy needs to go buy a lottery ticket (if he hasn’t already… oh wait, he probably already called his bookie and placed some Phil bets!). 170304-phil-mickelson3 Let’s move on to the par-4 14th, where Phil made yet another inane Phil par:

From there, he went on to make three birdies and then closed with a bogey. He posted a three-under 68, amazingly. But perhaps even more astounding were some of his post-round remarks. He was very, very disappointed with the way he struck the ball. He used the word “disappointing” ten times in his post-round scrum comments to describe his play.

“I’m a little disappointed because I know that I have been playing so well coming into this week and I’ve been striking the ball very well and I’ve been driving the ball very well, and to come out today and totally lose it and just lose the sense of it is very disappointing,” said Phil. “I fought hard to stay in it. I know that it’s not far away and hopefully I’ll get it turned around for tomorrow, that’s the game plan. But to come out in the last group in front of so many people and want to show everybody how much work I’ve been putting in, how well I’ve been playing and then to come out and play like that was very disappointing.”

Considering he drove the ball into multiple area codes throughout the day, he should be thrilled, but I understand there’s a difference between “scoring” and “ballstriking.” Still. I was almost as astonished with his disappointment as McIlroy was with Phil’s errant shots and luck.

“I showed a lot of heart today,” said Mickelson, who is 10-under for the tournament, just two shots behind leader Justin Thomas. “There’s a lot of positives that come from it for sure and I know that it’s not far off. I’ll go get it worked on probably in the morning, I’m a little tired right now. But I’ve been hitting it well all week and to just lose it there for a nine-hole stretch was disappointing.”


More disappointment expressed and explained:

“Honestly, it was a disappointing round for me because I haven’t played the way I would like to the last three years and I put a lot of work into it the last year and a half that had some good performances last year,” said Mickelson. “Came out this year playing pretty good and I entered this week, I was playing well, I was driving the ball well and I had an opportunity today to show by being in the last group all the hard work that I’ve put into it and how my game has really come around, and then I had a complete meltdown and lost all focus of my game for a nine-hole stretch there.

“Certainly there were positives. I know it’s not far away. Andrew’s here, I’ll get it worked out. And I fought hard, showed a lot of heart trying to just stay in it and it could be a lot worse. But I really wanted to show how well I’ve been playing, the hard work I’ve been putting into it and that my game has come around and then to play like I did today was very disappointing.”

Let’s take it to the perspective of the poor guy who had the misfortune of witnessing Phil’s “meltdown,” Rory McIlroy, who held a two-shot lead through 36, quickly saw that lead disappear and shot what was truly a disappointing one-under 70. I think Rory was still in shock and absolutely befuddled with playing with Phil — first time the two had ever been paired together over the weekend.

The quotes speak for themselves. First, his interview with Golf Channel:

Q.  How would you describe the day?


RORY McILROY:  A little bit weird.  I felt like I couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm right there.  Yeah, it was just sort of, it was all a bit slow, a bit sort of I was trying to get something going, just couldn’t quite.  I got it  I felt like there was a good chance around the turn to get something going.  I made birdie on 11, I drove it way down there on 12 and then hit the pin with my second shot and came back.  One of those days, just couldn’t really put like a few good holes together I guess.

Q.  Not quite as good as yesterday but you still got in red numbers.  How would you rate this round?


RORY McILROY:  It was very average.  I felt like I hit the ball pretty well, I just didn’t take advantage of some of the spots I hit it off the tee.  Wasn’t hitting it quite as close as I was yesterday and I just didn’t hole many putts.  Felt like it was hard to get into any sort of rhythm as well.  Felt like we were waiting a lot around the turn with Phil sort of hitting it, you know, a little bit everywhere.  So it was hard to get into any sort of rhythm and it sort of affected me a little bit.  I felt like I could have been a few better, but I’m still in the final group going into tomorrow so I can keep an eye on what those two are doing.

 He expanded in his post-round scrum/presser: 

RORY McILROY:  Boring?  I don’t know.  It was okay.  I felt like I couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm out there.  I didn’t get off to the greatest of starts.  Felt like I sort of got it going a little bit around the turn, but then it was hard to get into any sort of rhythm then because Phil was sort of here, there and everywhere so I was waiting a lot.  It probably shouldn’t have affected me but it did a little bit.  Yeah, it was tough to really get anything going.  I was trying to make a few coming in, I just  I put myself in decent positions, too.  I just didn’t.  So I need to go out tomorrow, start fast, get off to an aggressive start and hopefully catch the guys up by the ninth.  Looks like it will be a good shootout tomorrow anyways.


Q.  (Question about Sunday’s playing partners.)


RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I mean I played with Dustin the first two days here as well, so obviously we see a lot of each other down in Jupiter.  I think it makes it easier.  It’s a very comfortable group for all three of us.  It’s easy for us to go out there and we’ll be a little more relaxed.  We can chat, we can sort of stay a little bit looser than say  well, even today, you know, I know Phil sort of but not really, so you don’t really have as much interaction.  


But yeah, I think it will be a good group tomorrow.  I was just happy to get that final putt in.  I wasn’t hoping that Phil would miss it, but at the same time there was a chance that he was and then if I get in before him I’d be in the final group, so I just tapped that in.  Yeah, I guess it’s nice to be in the final group.  It’s nice to be able to keep an eye on the two that are ahead of me.


Q.  (No microphone.)


RORY McILROY:  Honestly, I think it was  I was a little bit nervous going out today.  I’ve been in position like this before dozens of times, but I don’t know, coming off an injury and sort of the first time back in contention for a while, I was a little bit edgy the first few holes.  Took me a while to settle into it.  Hopefully now that I’ve got that out of my system today and in the final group, hopefully that will be a little bit easier tomorrow.


Q.  Rory, were you involved in any of Phil’s rulings and (inaudible)?


RORY McILROY:  I mean, no, I wasn’t.  I just sort of stayed out of it.  I didn’t know  on 10 I went over because I didn’t know what had happened.  I guess someone had picked his ball up, so there was that.  And then on 11, getting the drop from the irrigation system.  


Then I hit one offline on 15 and I was like, this one’s going to end up behind a tree or something, just be my luck one of these days.  But yeah, Phil rode his luck out there, but jeez, if I was hitting it off the tee like he did today, there’s no way I would shoot 68.  I mean, (inaudible) 70, because that’s the great thing about Phil, he don’t get disheartened about something like that.  Like I would be a mess* if I was hitting it the way (Phil) was today.  I guess that’s the difference between us.  I like to see it going down the fairway and playing nice that way, where he goes like this (motioning) and shoots two better than me, so there you go.

 Translation: WTF. Phil is the luckiest dude in the world and I can’t believe I witnessed what I just did. Save me! 

*Note the bolded words from Phil and Rory. To make it easier, Phil said he had a “meltdown.” Meanwhile, Rory said he would be a “mess” if he hit it like Phil in the third round.

No, but really, Rory seemed astonished, bemused, dumbfounded, and perhaps slightly impressed, but mostly upset that he let wild Phil impact his play. It’s okay, Rory — it would’ve messed up anyone, with the exception of perhaps Dustin Johnson.

Per usual, credit Rory for his candor. Sure, he shouldn’t have let Phil’s wild round, all the absurdity and waiting around impact his own game, but it happens to everyone — Rory’s just one of few that would actually admit to it so honestly and at the same time reminding us that he’s human (why we love him).

Rory was downright relieved and thankful he’s paired with Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson in the final round. He wants nothing to do with Phil! And probably hopes that was the first and last time he is paired with Mickelson over the weekend!

Just because it was way too easy, I couldn’t resist. I mean, it would almost be a complete disservice not to have done this. Admit it: It crossed your mind if President Trump was watching and what he would tweet (if his unsecured Android hadn’t been confiscated by his staff again after Saturday morning’s unhinged barrage of unsubstantiated accusations of wiretaps and then throwing in another trivial tweet about Arnold and Celebrity Apprentice). Oh, but he probably didn’t watch because he was too busy playing golf again.

Anyway, there was no need for anything in that last paragraph besides perhaps the first sentence. There were so many options, but finally, after a very serious deliberation with myself, I settled on this one. To be clear, I made it abundantly clear on Twitter that it was a #faketweet and joke. And the fact that I’d even need to say that is SAD.

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