Lateral Hazard: Doubt Phil Mickelson at your peril

Brian Murphy
Yahoo! Sports

You know who sucks? Know-it-all golf writers, that's who.

I read this one column last week, and the blowhard scribe was coming after Phil Mickelson because of his so-so play in his first two starts of 2013. The guy wrote:

"Now, if things don't go his way in Phoenix, he will arrive at Pebble Beach marking the one-year anniversary since his last win. He also was a non-factor in the final three majors of 2012. Lefty has now gone 20 starts since his last win, and is 42 years old. As the kids would tweet: Just sayin'."

Phil probably read that online column while discussing carried interest and Cayman Island tax shelters with his accountant one morning over breakfast last week in Phoenix, dabbed a napkin at the corners of his mouth after a bite of a lobster omelet, and said: "Watch me lay waste to this idiot."

Here's what followed: a damn-near 59 (he settled for a lip-out 60) Thursday, a wire-to-wire win in Phoenix, a four-stroke dusting of a very game Brandt Snedeker and a 256 four-day total (with a 65 on Friday, 64 on Saturday and 67 on Sunday) that came within two strokes of a PGA Tour scoring record.

So, yes, Phil, that guy who questioned your 2013 should pipe down right about now.

Which means: I'll pipe down right about now.

Yes, it was this column that wondered if Phil at 42 was yesterday's news in an era brimming with 20-something stars like Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson. So, I say to Phil: My bad.

To overlook Phil is to commit a golf-watching sin. See, he may show up and lay an egg, and may do it several weeks in a row sometimes. He can look disinterested; he can lose focus on 3-foot par saves; he can drive it wayward with the best. And then, just when you think, "Well, Lefty's getting old," or "Well, Lefty's gone off the reservation again," comes a week like Phoenix. You remember that for pure talent, he may even outshine Tiger. You remember that when it's all clicking, there's nobody who rides a hot streak like Philly Mick. He's like the old Detroit Pistons shooting guard Vinny "Microwave" Johnson, who got hot faster than a nuclear convection oven. He's Phil "Microwave" Mickelson, and he has us all hot and bothered about his chances at Augusta National now, a place where he's won three times, by the way.

It got no more hot and bothered than Phil's 59-foot, up-the-slope-over-the-fringe-down-the-slope putt on No. 7 for birdie on Sunday, something you'd see in a trick-shot clinic. Even Snedeker was laughing in admiration for Lefty's wizardry, joking that he half expected Phil to hit a flop shot from there. But that's what Phil does – when he's feeling it.

[Related: Five things we learned about Phil Mickelson]

Perhaps playing in a state with no income tax fueled Lefty's magic?

Also, there has never been a better pitchman in golf than Phil Mickelson, with apologies to Arnold Palmer's Pennzoil collection. But when Lefty gets behind a product, he can weave plugs for that product into interviews in ways that make NASCAR drivers golf-course-green with envy.

And so it was with Mickelson's new Callaway Razr Fit driver, which he used with great success in Phoenix and which got more mentions over the weekend than the Harbaugh brothers. Armed with the new big dog, Mickelson drove the ball with great consistency. Like Tiger, when Philly Mick is playing from the fairway, dangerously good things can happen.

So, Phil will fly into Pebble Beach this weekend with a truckload of good vibrations. His new Callaway driver will ride shotgun to a place where he's won four times, just one shy of Mark (Prince of Pebble) O'Meara. Last year, when Lefty threw a haymaker at Tiger Woods by shooting 64 for the win on the Sunday to Tiger's 75, he declared his intention to try and tie O'Meara, so Mickelson will have motivation to keep him from pulling out his smartphone and checking his stocks in between shots.

After all, he's Phil Mickelson – the man who gets hot, stays hot and refuses to be categorized. Especially by knuckleheads who prematurely write him off.


64-66-65-65 – 24-under 260, Brandt Snedeker, runner-up, PGA Tour Waste Management Phoenix Open, TPC Scottsdale, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Already, 2013 is off to a sizzling start with wins from Tiger, Phil and Paulina Gretzky's main squeeze, Dustin Johnson.

And then there's the guy who hasn't won yet but is living on leaderboards, and living well.

[Related: Watch Phil Mickelson's amazing birdie putt]

When Snedeker won the FedEx Cup last fall and pocketed about $700 billion for doing so, most of America said: "Huh? Isn't the NFL on this Sunday?"

But this 32-year-old Tennessean with the Vanderbilt education, the Tom Watson-ish hands and a freckled face that belies a stone-cold killer's interior is leading the tour in money and knocking on every door he sees so far in 2013.

To wit: His runner-up at Phoenix followed last week's co-runner-up at Torrey Pines, where he finished only behind Tiger. Joked Snedeker of his Tiger-Phil Silver Medal Slam: "I keep running into Hall-of-Famers every week."

Snedeker is now No. 6 in the world and moving up the short list of heavy favorites to pocket a major this year. Again, he proves the slingshot can be mightier than the rocket: Snedeker is 152nd in driving distance, but 11th in greens in regulation, 25th in putting and first in birdies.

He's Brandt Snedeker, and he's the object in your rearview mirror that is closer than he appears.


(to music) "Got some real bad thoughts running through my head/Don't hit it fat, my caddie said/Everyone says you gotta go for broke/But Johnny Miller thinks I'm gonna choke … It's stadium golf at the TPC/Where a deuce is great/But I'll take a three … " – Jake Trout and the Ball Washers, "Cheers and Boos," premiered on NBC during the Phoenix Open

First of all, the band's name is Jake Trout and the Ball Washers. Hat tip to Peter Jacobsen, lead singer, songwriter, all around bon vivant.

Second of all, that's some quality golf humor, right there, a musical ode to Phoenix's most famous golf hole. The 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale has, over the past decade, morphed from a place for raucous fans to turn golf convention upside down to a total Broadway extravaganza, a sponsored keg-a-thon complete with "the wave" and organized chants and delirious cheers for successful efforts – and open booing of failed golf shots.

I covered a Phoenix Open in 2001 and found the whole thing a bit boorish for my refined tastes (cough, cough), but have to admit that time has worn me down and won me over. I now see the fun in having one hole a year become an adrenalized detour from golf's uber-serious landscape.

Besides, who doesn't like caddie races?

Sort of like dot racing from the ballparks, only with 40-pound golf bags and guys nicknamed "Stinky" and "Bambi" and "Last Call."

So Peter Jacobsen picking up a guitar and teaming with his band to sing the above song worked beautifully: light comic bluegrass for a light comic golf hole. Credit to the Golf Boyz – Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan – for lip synching some of the lines for video enhancement.

This year's 16th hole also featured Padraig Harrington booting an American football, and as a 49ers fan who lamented David Akers' inconsistency this year, I briefly thought about texting Jim Harbaugh to have him look into Harrington's availability for Super Bowl Sunday.

[Related: Phil Mickelson's never-changing routine]

For the golf purist who finds the hole vulgar, I understand your concern. I love the reverie of a silent, pressure-packed golf hole, viewed by stern, gray-haired bankers and lawyers in cashmere sweaters as much as the next Establishment guy.

But every now and then, a little slice of "Golfers Gone Wild" – and James Hahn tearing it up Gangnam Style – isn't the worst thing to hit Western Civilization.


This one's pretty simple: It's the golf stroke the golf world talked about all weekend. After all, with Mickelson running away with the Phoenix Open, there had to be something to talk about other than prop bets on the length of Alicia Keys' national anthem and the blood-alcohol content of the actual air at the Phoenix Open.

It's Lefty's 59th stroke on Thursday.

By now, most of you have probably seen his 25-footer on the 18th green from Thursday track, true and sure, hug the right side of the cup, curl around the back of the cup and for good, painful measure, horseshoe around to the left side of the cup before staying out. The only thing it didn't do was grow fingers and fly half the peace sign at Mickelson as it curled out.

It was your basic, golf-gods-telling-you-to-live-cleaner moment. How could it stay out? Because, friends, golf is the devil's own game.

Had the putt fallen, Phil would have achieved the sixth 59 in PGA Tour history, joining Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, David Duval, Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby. He also would have kept his caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay's knees clean, as Bones crumpled to the green in dismay when it failed to fall.

Thanks, though, for the entertainment, Phil. You reminded us that while baseball has seen 23 perfect games in its history, golf's 59 remains an even more magical, elusive number. Plus, you gave fans in Phoenix another reason to raise their beer-filled glass to salute you.

As if they needed an excuse.

So for Phil, and the beer-swillers, and history, let's go back to the 18th green, plop that golf ball 25 feet from the hole and … give that Phil a mulligan!


Ah, sweet Pebble.

Jim Nantz will jet in from the Super Bowl to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and is betting there will be no blackout on the Monterey Peninsula. Maybe a few rain showers, but as far as empire-decaying power outages, I think we're safe that the diurnal golf at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Country Club will exclude the possibility of any blown fuse boxes.

Tiger, of course, will skip the event. Even though he played last year, it is believed he did so for an obligation to AT&T, as he regards the event's slow pace, celebrity-jammed fields and bumpy California-in-February greens with the same regard he holds National Enquirer gossip reporters.

But the field is brimming. Two-time champ Dustin Johnson, along with his babe's old man, some hockey player named Wayne Gretzky, are entered. So is Lefty, of course. And Snedeker, who should already have his name stenciled on to the leaderboard.

Lee Westwood is flying in from Dubai, a short trip. And Harrington returns, too. Celebrities include Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, Bill Murray and Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, who figures to be asked about San Francisco Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval hitting two home runs off him in the 2012 World Series, oh, about 100 times by adoring Giants fans in the gallery.

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