The Waste Management Phoenix Open is dubbed “The Greatest Show on Grass,” among other things, and it sure lived up to its billing on Saturday. Phil Mickelson put on quite the performance for the 179,022 fans (with at least 50-60% that never saw a golf shot) in attendance for the third round, setting a new all-time single-day record at not only the event, but in professional golf history. That’s what happens when you have Phil the Thrill + booze + sunny and 75 degrees.
Mickelson started slow, relatively speaking, but unlike the first two rounds, he finished on a high note, rolling in four straight birdies to close and five in the last six. After launching his drive over the water hazard and ending up by the sky boxes left of the fairway, he knocked his approach shot to 15-feet. The crowd went wild. When he rolled in the putt for birdie to shoot seven-under 64, 24-under total, the mob of fans went nuts.
It was so loud I couldn’t even hear myself think. It was also mind-blowing walking up the 18th hole and seeing the throng of people from…everywhere. It was unreal.
“I really enjoyed playing with Keegan (Bradley) and Bill (Haas),” said Mickelson, who is looking to become the first wire-to-wire winner at the Phoenix Open since Steve Jones in 1997. ”They’re not just great players but great people, and we have a lot of fun together. It was a fun day playing with them.
“We didn’t really get off to the greatest starts. We were just kind of cruising along making a lot of pars with an occasional birdie, and then the back 9 where there are some really good birdie holes and I was fortunate to take advantage of some of those.
“Even then I was fractionally off, and my short game is what gave me that momentum. The bunker shots I hit on 13 and 15 were really good as well as the chip on 17. That gave me three birdies there.”
The flock of fans following Mickelson’s group from the start was loud and rowdy, rooting for Phil and boosting him to a strong finish.
Meanwhile, it seemed like a bit of a distraction for Phil’s fellow competitors. Keegan did the opposite of his partner at last fall’s Ryder Cup matches, unfortunately, and bogeyed four of the last six — he threw in a birdie at No. 17 and ended up posting two-over 73 to drop ten-under, T26.
Haas scrambled for a one-under 70 and admitted he didn’t do the best job handling the intensity and rambunctious spectators (and people of all ages boozing at the nearby watering holes). He said he needed to work on channeling Phil and embracing the crowd better in the future.
“It was very similar to the second round where, after shooting 60, I started out with six pars and tried not to force it,” said Phil. ”Then I was able to rattle off five birdies and an eagle, or actually six birdies and an eagle in round 2.
“Staying patient here, there are a lot of birdie opportunities, especially the way I have been driving the ball. By putting the ball in play, it gives me opportunities to get aggressive at these pins even when they’re tucked.
“I have a lot of short irons and am able to play aggressively trying to make birdies. If I continue to do that, I will have some good chances tomorrow, but that will be the key.”
In front of about 18,000 fans on the famed par-3 16th, Mickelson hit a perfect shot to the difficult back, left-tucked pin. He had a kick-in for birdie. As you can imagine, everyone went absolutely nuts. It was so loud that you couldn’t even hear the guy over the loudspeaker, who was trying to quiet down the crowd for Haas to tee off.
“It was a pretty good shot,” said Phil, with a massive grin. “What’s funny about that is 172 yards is a very tough 9-iron for me to get there, but I immediately take 5 yards off and in my head I had 167. The reason is you always have a little bit of adrenaline here, and the ball goes a little bit longer on 16. It always does.
“I played for a 167-yard shot and tried to hit just a comfortable or stock 9-iron, and the ball ended up flying that far and released to the hole.”
Mickelson has a six-shot lead going into the final round. Last year, Spencer Levin had an eight-shot cushion and struggled on Sunday, giving Kyle Stanley the chance to go low and come back from eight shots to win.
It’s hard to imagine Phil letting up, especially since it’s almost a home game for him. If anyone can catch him, though, it’s the guy in second place, Brandt Snedeker, who has a history of going low on Sundays and overcoming multiple-stroke deficits.
In fact, Sneds trailed by five shots or more in three of his four PGA Tour titles: 2012 Farmers Insurance Open (trailed Kyle Stanley by seven, shot final-round 67 and then won playoff); 2011 RBC Heritage (trailed Luke Donald by six, shot final-round 64 and then won playoff); 2007 Wyndham Championship (trailed Jeff Overton by five, shot final-round 63 to win by 2).
“I definitely will be a lot more aggressive tomorrow than I normally am just because 5-under par is not going to do it,” said Snedeker, who tied for second last week at the Farmers Insurance Open. “I will have to go at some pins and make some putts early and be more aggressive than I probably normally would be. That’s kind of the way the golf course is playing right now. You’re not going to make up much ground shooting 4-under par. You need to go out there and shoot low.”
You bet that Mickelson is well aware of Brandt’s track record.
“I know how good Snedeker is and how hot he can get with a putter,” said Phil, who has 40 victories on the PGA Tour. “He can make 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.”
How crazy aggressive will Brandt get? “Very,” he said.
“I’m not playing for 2nd. I have already had one of those this year. You play to win, and I’m going to try to win tomorrow.”
Here’s a list of Mickelson’s finishes when holding the 54-hole lead on Tour:
|Phil Mickelson 54-hole leads||* includes 2004 Bob Hope Classic|
|(Not counting 54-hole events)||21 of 32 Overall, 3 of 4 Majors|
|1991 Northern Telecom Open||2 over Pavin, Peoples||-15||W (71)|
|1993 Northern Telecom Open||tie Hart||-15||T8 (75)|
|1994 Mercedes Championships||tie Couples||-8||W (68)|
|1995 Northern Telecom Open||tie Gallagher, Jr., Ogle||-14||W (68)|
|1996 GTE Byron Nelson Classic||1 over Pavin, Rymer, Wiebe||-11||W (66)|
|1996 NEC World Series of Golf||3 over Mayfair, Norman||-6||W (70)|
|1998 Mercedes Championships||1 over Duval||-13||W (68)|
|2000 Buick Invitational||2 over Maruyama||-16||W (70)|
|2001 AT&T Pebble Beach||tie Browne||-14||T3 (73)|
|2001 Compaq Classic of New Orleans||3 over Frazar||-20||2 (72)|
|2001 MasterCard Colonial||tie Quigley||-11||T2 (70)|
|2001 Canon Greater Hartford Open||1 over Berganio, Jr.||-14||W (68)|
|2004 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic||Led by 2 after 54, tie Triplett after 72||-26||W (68)|
|2004 Masters Tournament||tie DiMarco||-6||W (69)|
|2005 FBR Open||4 over Na||-14||W (68)|
|2005 AT&T Pebble Beach||7 over Owen||-20||W (73)|
|2005 Ford Championship at Doral||2 over Woods||-20||2 (69)|
|2005 PGA Championship||tie Love||-6||W (72)|
|2006 BellSouth Classic||8 over Johnson and Byrd||-21||W (65)|
|2006 Masters Tournament||1 over Couples and C. Campbell||-4||W (69)|
|2006 U.S. Open||tie Ferrie||2||T2 (74)|
|2007 AT&T Pebble Beach||tie Mallinger||-14||W (66)|
|2007 Nissan Open||1 over Harrington||-13||P2 (68)|
|2008 Northern Trust Open||1 over Jeff Quinney||-11||W (70)|
|2008 Crowne Plaza Invitational||1 over Pampling, Ames||-12||W (68)|
|2008 Bridgestone Invitational||tie Westwood, Singh||-8||T4 (70)|
|2009 Northern Trust Open||4 over Romero||-16||W (72)|
|2009 WGC-CA Championship||tie Watney||-16||W (69)|
|2011 Farmers Insurance Open||tie Haas||-12||2 (69)|
|2011 Shell Houston Open||tie Verplank||-13||W (65)|
|2012 Northern Trust Open||tie K. Bradley||-7||P2 (71)|
|2012 BMW Championship||tie V. Singh||-16||T2 (70)|
|2013 WM Phoenix Open||6 over Snedeker||-24||TBD|
Let’s take a poll: Will Phil pull off the wire-to-wire victory and capture his 41st career win on the PGA Tour?
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)