by Jeff Skinner
For years now, whenever Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were in the field there was always the anticipation of a showdown between the two. Rarely have we had the chance to see them go head to head coming down the stretch. This past Sunday at Torrey Pines we got to see Phil live up to his end of the bargain. But instead of Tiger, there was Bubba Watson. Bubba Watson had stolen Tiger’s role in the last act of this play.
Tiger and Phil were there all right but they were quite different players that we were used to seeing over the years. Tiger was to emerge from his off season of swing reconstruction with Sean Foley as the Tiger of old. He was to return to his days of blowing away fields at will and regain his crown as King of the Hill. The Tiger we saw during this tournament looked as confused and perplexed with his game as he has ever been. His driving was poor, his putting was worse and his sand game looked like a 24 handicapper. About the only place we could see improvement was his on course demeanor. Except for one scene where he was caught on camera dropping an expletive he was fairly well behaved. His game looked rusty and undisciplined as he sprayed the ball all over Torrey Pines. When Tiger was at his best he was one of the few golfers that could actually diagnose his fault of the day and fix it on the fly. Nicklaus had that gift, so did Tiger but no longer. Tiger looked a long way from being Tiger once again and only time will tell if he can find his magic.
Phil Mickelson lived up to his end of the Tiger vs. Phil matchup. He was there at the end and if he had pulled off that wedge we would have all been witness to a golfing miracle. But Phil didn’t get there playing like the Phil of old. No one takes more chances on the course than Mickelson. We have seen him flop it, drop it, curve it, spin it, kill it and hole it from everywhere on the course. It is his gamblers attitude that we all admire. It has also cost him plenty of trophies. Does the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot ring a bell? But the Phil who stood over that wedge on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines was a different Phil Mickelson. He got there by playing a conservative game and it wasn’t just on that hole. He played a smart game all week taking most of the risk out of his shots before he hit them. He worked his way around Torrey Pines all week by playing high percentage shots that got him into contention coming down the last hole.
Phil took some undeserved criticism for not taking a shot at the eighteenth green from the rough on Sunday. Phil and his man Bones had made the decision to lay up long before Bubba had holed out. It was the lie that dictated his shot not his attitude. If he had hit the fairway he may have considered it but he hadn’t gone for it all week. So when he came upon his difficult lie his choice was made. As the fates had it he almost pulled off the shot of a lifetime but the Phil’s new attitude had served him well.
Phil has said he didn’t really didn’t work on any aspect of his swing in the off season. He is comfortable with his swing. A comfortable Phil Mickelson that plays a smart golf game could be a very lethal combination.
Phil’s comfortable with his swing. Tiger is anything but. They were two golfers at the same tournament but not really going in the same direction.