You mess with the bulll ... Phil Mickelson entertains and wins (with some help)

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JERSEY CITY, N.J. – It was quintessential Lefty and it came at Keith Mitchell and Harry Higgs like a buzzsaw.

“I’m hitting a Callaway [golf ball] with a jumping me on it ... it’s from when I won the Masters. What are you guys using?” Phil Mickelson deadpanned as the normally quiet first tee at Liberty National erupted with laughter.

In a game of outspoken one-upmanship, Lefty is the undisputed G.O.A.T. Most know this. Higgs learned it on Tuesday.

It’s the most famous Mike Tyson quote: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Higgs thought he had a handle on what Tuesday’s practice-round match would be like, otherwise he would have never poked the bear on social media.

During an otherwise innocent Q&A with some of his followers last month, Higgs was asked who he would want to get paired with to play a match against Mickelson. “I’ll play with anyone. And I don’t think [Mickelson] is ready for my trash talk,” he thumbed.

Higgs should have seen this coming based on the early response from Lefty: “Tuesday in Memphis. See you in the a.m. in a week,” Mickelson tweeted.

Lost in the subtle brilliance of Mickelson was the fact that Higgs was not qualified for the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, a limited-man field of the game’s top players.

Full-field tee times from The Northern Trust

“Of course, I knew he wasn’t in Memphis,” Mickelson laughed. “I wouldn’t be dropping those lines if I didn’t know. It’s like a lawyer, you don’t ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.”

The duo eventually settled on Tuesday’s match at The Northern Trust with Lefty going with Joel Dahmen as his partner against Higgs and Mitchell, or as Mickelson referred to during his live tweeting of the match as “Kevin/Keith” which was a reference to a broadcast that once inadvertently referred to the PGA Tour winner as “Kevin Mitchell.”

Before he arrived on the first tee early Tuesday, Higgs’ confidence was untouchable, “For a month I didn’t think there was any way they could beat us,” Higgs said.

And then it began with Phil at his subtle best.

“I didn’t know the man has his own logo on his golf ball. It wouldn’t really fit if I did that,” Higgs said of Mickelson’s first-tee announcement. “I guess you have to win 40-plus times and six majors to have that ability. That was a start … [but] if you go out to some of the water hazards around here you can find a couple of those today, too.”

The match was going Higgs' and Mitchell’s way early. Higgs birdied the first and he rolled in a 30-footer at the fourth hole to go 2 up.

Everything went downhill from there.

Mickelson and Dahmen cut the lead when “Joe Da Man,” which is what Lefty called Dahmen in his social media commentary, birdied the fifth hole and at the par-5 sixth hole, the so-called “underdogs” were treated to a perfectly Phil moment.

“Phil hit a horrible drive and then a great second shot and he holed the putt [for eagle],” Higgs said. “I guess I got the true Phil Mickelson experience.”

Mitchell didn’t find the match nearly as endearing as Higgs, but then he’s endured Lefty’s slings and arrows before. Kevin/Keith played with Mickelson on Days 1 and 2 at the 2019 BMW Championship and he’s been treated to the occasional practice round. He knew what to expect, but that doesn’t mean he had to like it.

“I hated every single minute of it,” said Mitchell on his way to the New York Stock Exchange, where he was scheduled to ring the closing bell. “He talks so much sh*t, it just doesn’t stop.”

That’s not to say Mitchell doesn’t appreciate the finer points of Mickelson’s true gift as a trash-talker, but he and Higgs lost the match, 3 and 1 - as well as the press. There’s only so much joy a competitor can take from that.

“So, we lost 1.5 of the original bet,” smiled Higgs, who declined to reveal the exact amount each team had wagered. “It stung because it has to go from my pocket to someone else’s pocket, but it was reasonable.”

Mickelson piled on following the match, telling reporters that the day played out exactly how he expected it would.

“We had the outcome we were all expecting and we were hoping for,” Mickelson shrugged in full Lefty mode. “The key was to win in a way that’s not so dominant that they believe they can’t win and they come back for more and I think they are. They actually want more.”

There’s no rematch scheduled now and Higgs seemed content to take the “L.” “I ran my big mouth and a Hall of Famer put me in my place,” he said.

But that wouldn’t be the Lefty way. It’s not all about winning, it’s about winning with a subtle smile and no small amount of style.