The counter to Phil Mickelson's Hall of Fame skill is his innate ability to self-destruct. Each is equally compelling, Phil the Thrill also the human train wreck that does not allow us to look away.
ESPN did a superb job of showing the train wreck in the first round of the British Open on Thursday, even capturing his running commentary without its announcers talking over him.
That hasn't always been the case. Last year, ESPN was criticized for its talent talking over what sounded like an interesting exchange between Mickelson and caddie Jim Mackay over club selection. This time, it allowed the viewers to hear him discuss his travails at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
For instance, at the third hole, with his ball having disappeared into thick rough, Mickelson was heard discussing with a rules official what his options might be. "You know, I can't even see it where I'm swinging," he said. "Is there any rule about that? I mean, standing over it I can't even see it."
He was given no relief and slashed it back to the fairway and eventually made bogey.
On the seventh hole, from the left hay, he and Mackay were heard discussing options, including Mickelson's concern that were he to attempt to slash it out he might hurt himself. He chose to play it out sideways and hit it across the fairway into more rough. He made double-bogey there.
On the eighth hole, when a search party was required to help him locate his ball after a fairway bunker shot that traveled no more than four or five yards went missing (see photo above), viewers were allowed to eavesdrop on both the search, then the aftermath as Mickelson wondered whether he'd get relief from his ball having been imbedded.
He was granted no such relief and had to take an unplayable lie, though he salvaged bogey.
Mickelson was "three swings away from having a decent round," Azinger said. Instead, he shot a three-over par 73 that puts him nine shots behind leader Adam Scott.
Boomer, Phil and two gloves
ESPN's Paul Azinger invoked the late Percy Boomer, a renowned golf instructor from England, in explaining Mickelson's difficulties on the back nine, when he played with gloves on both hands to counter the drop in temperature.
"Percy Boomer made a comment a hundred years ago, the hands are like spark plugs on a car. When timed incorrectly they could backfire," Azinger said. "When I see a guy put on a second glove and he's got some 20 to 30,000 hours invested in practicing with one glove I tend to wonder if his hand hasn't backfired on him a couple times today."