A week before the Academy Awards, the PGA Tour's Hollywood stop was set to give us its own Best Picture and Best Actor seven days early.
You could call Riviera's flick: "From Pebble to Palisades: It's Philly Mick's World" or "The Tiger Slayer And More: Phil!" or "Lefty: One Man's Route to Global Domination."
Whatever the studio execs would want to call it, the story took L.A. and the golf world by storm for 72-plus holes at the golf course where Humphrey Bogart was once a member. And it was a "Here's lookin' at you, Lefty" moment when Mickelson drained a 26-footer from the fringe on 18 on Sunday afternoon to force a playoff with Bill Haas at the Northern Trust Open.
Fans at Riviera went bananas. It was "The Artist" at his finest. Forget "Moneyball"; it was "MoneyPhil." One delirious fan even rolled down the slope by 18, pounding his fist deliriously into the kikiyu grass near the fringe of the putting green. Haas, alone on the range practicing for a possible playoff, must have felt like the neighbor next door listening to a raging house party.
So how did the guy most people wouldn't even recognize as Best Supporting Actor trump the big star?
Put in terms of another Riviera member, it was time to channel Larry David and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" when Mickelson couldn't match Haas' birdie on the 10th hole, their second playoff hole.
Of note, there was a third actor in the drama, the promising young talent and major champion, Keegan Bradley. This kid is all guts, oozing intensity on the golf course and pouring in his own birdie putt on the 72nd hole to join Haas and Mickelson in the extra-time dance. But Bradley, too, failed to match Haas' birdie on the 10th, meaning the least compelling player of the trio got the last line of the script.
Haas earned his fourth career "W," a nice follow-up to his $11 million payday in last fall's FedEx Cup playoffs. Haas is a delightful young man, and the Wake Forest product – a religious studies major, befitting his quiet manner – is the son of one of the earth's nicest human beings, Jay Haas, so you can't help but wish him well.
It's just that golf fans across America, still buzzing from Lefty's Sunday 64 at Pebble, from his evisceration of Tiger Woods on the shores of Carmel Bay, were ready for an encore. Lefty is box-office gold, as good a guarantee as George Clooney. And a week after Pebble, star power was the order of the day again, as NBA legend and tournament director Jerry West watched Phil make his birdie on 18, smiling contentedly. The Logo liked The Lefty.
Couch potatoes everywhere surged to their feet when Mickelson birdied the last, while the roar at Riviera confirmed the West Coast Kid would own the West Coast Swing.
At least, that was the story that would make you buy popcorn.
Instead, at the iconic 10th hole, Phil went with 3-wood at the drivable par-4 and pulled his tee shot slightly, his golf ball resting in the menacing kikiyu. Haas went with his driver, surmising that long off the tee was the smarter play. It would mean Haas would have to pitch sideways to the green in two, then make a right-to-left 45-footer – which is exactly what he did.
Mickelson was left to try the floppiest of flop shots, to the tightest of pin locations. Even though the boys at CBS, clearly enjoying Mickelson's ratings-friendly drama, were psyched for the moment – "This could be the shot of the year!" Nick Faldo exclaimed hopefully – Lefty didn't have the goods. His effort rolled past the hole and into a back bunker, and when he couldn't hole out for a birdie, and when Bradley missed his birdie putt from the fringe, the guy with the least star power in the playoff got the statuette.
Credit to Haas for his dry wit afterward, noting that while the ticket-buying public cheers for Mickelson, "Phil sounds a lot like Bill." Nice touch, that.
The big picture is, Mickelson at age 41 appears intent on being a force. And the good news for his fans is that Lefty has more star turns to come, starting with Augusta National in April.
But on Sunday, Hollywood was left with one of those moments when the script didn't write itself, when the critics would be left to wonder why the guy with top billing didn't walk away with the statue at the end. Proof, indeed, that golf is its own being, and exerts its own energy, immune to the wants and wishes of those who long for happier endings.
Scorecard of the week
73-65-65-66 – 19-under 269, Yani Tseng, winner, LPGA Thailand, Siam Country Club, Thailand.
Meanwhile, on the independent film circuit …
Yes, the LPGA struggles to get eyeballs in the States when it plays its events in Asia. But every smart business follows the money, and the market for women's golf – along with its dominant players – is in Asia.
There is none more dominant than Yani (The Cherub-Faced Terminator) Tseng. She cuts the appearance of your friendly playing partner on a weekend, never goes over the top with intense demonstrations of emotion, and yet calmly and coolly dines on the tickers of her fellow competitors.
Take Sunday in Thailand, for example.
Tseng is coming off one of the great years in golf history, with 12 wins and two majors and a lock on the No. 1 spot in the world. She opened 2012 with a tie-8th at the Australian Open, and when she followed that with an opening-round 73 in Thailand on Thursday, one could imagine the calm exterior of Tseng barely masked a raging, five-alarm blaze of competitive fire.
So, naturally, she went 20-under the next 54 holes, capped by a birdie-birdie finish Sunday to hold off Ai Miyazato by a stroke, after starting the day one shot behind Miyazato for the lead.
In other words … boom!
To add to Tseng's lore, she birdied her last hole in Thailand after seeing Miyazato hit her third shot into the par-5 18th tight. Knowing she had to answer, Tseng dialed a wedge from 104 to kick-in distance. Win numero uno of 2012 was in the books.
Interestingly, Tseng told reporters afterward that she felt an intense amount of pressure entering the year, given her dominant 2011. Admitting the demands of an encore weighed on her, she said the people closest to her are focused on keeping her relaxed.
Rocking a .500 win percentage two tournaments into the new year is apparently part of the plan.
Broadcast moment of the week
"It's such a shame … the three-to-four footer has just held him back so much." – Jim Nantz, CBS, after watching Sergio Garcia three-putt at Riviera Country Club, missing a three-footer for par.
Perhaps it's time we check in with Sergio Garcia, 32, no longer young enough to be called El Nino, and with too few wins in the last few years in the U.S. to be called a contender.
There have been rumblings that Garcia is ready for a renaissance. Twice last year he won on the European Tour, after posting oh-fers in 2009 and 2010 on both sides of the Atlantic. Not since the 2008 Players Championship has Garcia won in the U.S., 59 starts without a victory.
Some believe Garcia's best days are over, that his career, while decorated with many moments of Ryder Cup glory, would be remembered on an individual level as perhaps the ultimate example of being eclipsed by Tiger Woods. No player symbolizes the epic mental domination Tiger held over a generation than Garcia, who was presumed to be Tiger's rival after their showdown at the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah. Garcia was just 19, full of enthusiasm and brio, the new Seve to Tiger's new Jack.
Instead, Garcia never summoned the moxie to stare down Tiger on the big stage. Rather, he wilted. And his best chance at a major championship – the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie – cruelly lipped out on the 72nd green, leading to Padraig Harrington's playoff win.
It was that dastardly moment at Carnoustie that so symbolized Garcia's near-misses – always, always, always inflicted on the putting greens, where he has never proven to be world class.
Now in his early 30s, with Tiger diminished and the landscape more open, perhaps this is Garcia's time for a rebirth. The two European wins mean something, surely, and his work Sunday at Riviera – a day's-best 64, including two eagles on his back nine – earned him a tie-4th, just two shots out of the playoff.
But Nantz's words hang in the air. Garcia had two misses from short distance on Sunday, and while it's difficult to ask a player to shoot 62, and preposterous to even think of criticizing a 64, the short putts remain a massive factor in determining Garcia's future.
Maybe his 30s will be kinder to him. The golf world would reap the benefit if so.
Mulligan of the week
Come on, this is easy.
Phil Mickelson had fans feeding from his palm when he made that 26-footer on the 72nd hole, ready to write his second consecutive epic week. Perhaps Lefty would even share top billing with the likes of Jeremy Lin, if Lin would be so kind to oblige?
And on the 10th hole – that delicious, intriguing, drivable, vexing par-4 – Mickelson pulled 3-wood, and it was not the right club for him. His tee shot, short and right, landed him in kikikyu death. To make birdie from there would be impossible.
So let's go back to that 10th tee, let Lefty reclaim his gunslinger soul, pull a driver, have him go for it and … give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
It is with mixed emotions that we welcome the arrival of the Accenture Match Play in the Arizona desert.
On one hand, match play can be the ultimate thrill ride in golf: wild swings of momentum, unpredictable twists and turns and exhibitions of golf courage – and its opposite – on stark display. On the other hand, the realities of match play mean that too often, over the capricious nature of 18 (or fewer) holes, big names tumble. While that can make for a briefly exciting turn of events, within moments there isn't a No. 1 seed in sight, and David Toms is shaking hands with Chris DiMarco on the tee box, or Americans are searching for their remotes as an all British matchup of Ian Poulter and Paul Casey fills our Sunday morning.
Can we dream about Phil vs. Tiger in the finals? Please. Lefty isn't even playing, taking vacation with his kids home from school this week.
Maybe the golf gods will smile, and a Rory McIlroy-Tiger final will emerge, or a Dustin Johnson-Sergio, for a lesser but still viable thrill. Be forewarned, however, a Simon Dyson-Bo Van Pelt final could be rocking your big-screen on Sunday.
The vagaries of match play, amigos!
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