The groan heard around TPC Scottsdale was Phil Mickelson’s 25-foot putt on No. 9 (his 18th) for birdie an golf’s magic number — 59 — looking like it was good all the way, until it did a near-360 around the cup and lipped out. Jim “Bones” Mackay, Mickelson’s longtime caddie fell to the ground in despair.
Phil, who started walking toward the hole and raising his putter up in anticipation of a celebration, was left with a tap-in for an 11-under 60. Which is still an excellent round, but he was naturally disappointed and called it “heartbreaking.”
Indeed, it was.
“Six feet to go, it was in the center, three feet to go, it was in the center, a foot to go, it was in the center, and even as it’s approaching the hole, I couldn’t envision which side of the hole it could possibly miss on, and it ended up somehow just dying off at the end, catching the lip and at that speed to lip out as much as it did is very rare,” said Phil, giving the play-by-play of the putt’s journey to the hole.
“It’s unfortunate, but I mean, I’m ecstatic with the round, but man, you just don’t get those opportunities very often, and to see that ball lip out instead of lip in, like I say, it’s crushing.”
While Mickelson shot 58 in the 2004 Grand Slam of Golf (which is an exhibition that consists of the four major champs from the season), he hasn’t done it in an official tournament round. That’s because you don’t get too many chances and it doesn’t happen often.
Only five players in the history of the PGA Tour have posted the special number: Al Geiberger in 1977 at the Memphis Open; Chip Beck in 1991 at the Las Vegas Invitational; David Duval in 1999 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic; Paul Goydos in 2010 at the John Deere Classic; and Stuart Appleby in 2010 at the Greenbrier Classic.
“Well, 60 is awesome, and last time I shot 60 here in ’05 I birdied like the last three or four holes just to do that, and I was ecstatic, and I’m ecstatic to shoot 60,” said Mickelson. “But there’s a big difference between 60 and 59. Not that big between 60 and 61, there really isn’t. But there’s a big barrier, a Berlin Wall barrier, between 59 and 60.”
After Phil fired a dazzling seven-under 29 on the back nine (teed off No. 10), he was thinking what we were all thinking — he was in good position to shoot 59 and perhaps even 58.
“I thought both of them (58 and 59) right after 18, and then for the whole back nine I’m thinking, let’s go,” said Phil, who leads the first round by four shots. “I made that putt on 1, I’m thinking it. I hit a shot on 2 that had action, it went a little long but made a good par.
“But I birdied 3 and 4, done deal I’m going to get this done. Very disappointed that I wasn’t able to birdie the last couple. I hit a great shot on 7 to give myself a really good chance at it, had two wedges in on 8 and 9, hit two great drives on 8 and 9 and ended up with a pitching and a gap wedge and didn’t hit the best shot but gave myself great putts at it and thought I had the last one.”
So did we, Phil. So did we.
Bo Van Pelt fired a 59 in Wednesday’s pro-am. Interesting enough, Mickelson was the one that informed Van Pelt on the 17th tee that he was on track to shoot 59. Bo had a tap-in eagle on the drivable par-4 17th and then he rolled in a 10-footer for birdie on 18 to achieve the feat, but the pressure in a pro-am is different than an official tournament round, obviously.
“Absolutely,” said Phil when asked if it inspired him in any way. “He hit a shot on 17, he was 9-under at the time, and he hit a drive that hit the pin and ended up a foot. It should have gone in. And I kind of got into him, I said, look, I don’t care when it is, get a 3, make a 3 on the last hole because you don’t get a chance to shoot 59.”
Smiling, he added in a self-deprecating tone, “Here I am the next day making a 4 (on the last). Great.”
Mickelson credited the new Callaway driver he put in his bag on Tuesday. As we know, he’s a master of the recovery shot (in other words: he isn’t the straightest driver of the ball).
Phil, who can charm a room and play the game better than anyone in the biz, took us through his round.
“On 13, I hit the drive exactly where I wanted to, which I usually aim over the desert, and I figured, well, there’s no way I’m going to hit it there, so I’m either going to miss a little right or a little left and it works out great, and this time it went right where I was trying to hit it,” he said. “So go figure, it sticks in the desert, and I had to kind of chip out with a 7-iron and advance it down there. I hit a 9-iron to a foot and made birdie there.”
What kind of driver is it? Callaway’s RAZR Fit Extreme (9.5 loft). And that’s why Phil gets paid the big bucks to endorse the product. Seriously, he’s probably the best pitchmen in golf, or sports, for that matter!
“You’ve heard me talk about how I drove the ball,” said Phil. “I drove the ball great today, put a new driver in my bag, I got it Tuesday, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to hit, I drove it great.
“But on 17, this is a great example, you’ve seen me over the years miss it left, and there’s water left, and I know there’s water left because I’ve been in it so many times, and I aimed right at the middle of the green, I trusted the club and went right at the middle of the green, on the middle of the green 50 feet from the hole, two-putted for birdie, and to me that’s the biggest thing.
“We’ve got so if this driver does what it did for me today, it could alter my game significantly. The misses were minuscule, it went long and straight, and I’m really excited about the difference here.”
More on why his new driver is awesome and potential game-changer for Phil:
“Here’s the difference: I spin the ball a lot with my irons, and when I go to a driver that has enough loft, it spins too much for me so I have to deloft it, which you see me create this tilt in my golf swing to get the ball up in the air,” he said. “This driver spins so low that I can have more loft on the club, making it easier to hit.
“This has got to be good for every player I would think, but it sure as heck is good for me. And by having it be a low spin driver with enough loft, and because it’s that RAZR Fit Xtreme where you can fit it, I was able to get it dialed in to where it goes straight. But I’m able to make the same golf swing as my irons so you’ll see me extend down the target line, you won’t see this kind of tilt because it’s not enough loft to get up and it’s not low enough spin to not float, and it has been it really could be a revolutionary club for me.
“Possibly all golfers but certainly for my game, because if I drive it like this and feel as easy as I do over the driver, my iron the strength of my game is my iron play, so if I can drive it like I did and with the ease with which I did and the misses be where they were, then this could be a really big deal for me.”
I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit curious to try one out now. See? His sponsors are definitely getting their money’s worth (well, maybe except for accounting firm KPMG, whose logo dons Phil’s hat, after the whole tax debacle).
(AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Rob Schumacher)