Lefty’s Lay-Up Takes the Thrill Out of Phil

Phil Mickelson really is “Phil the Thrill,’’ especially in the big eye of CBS. At least you would think so after David Feherty gushingly glossed over Lefty’s calculated “lay-up’’ on the last hole in San Diego, thus literally handing the Farmers Insurance Open to one Bubba Watson on Sunday.

Knowing it was elementary, that he needed to make eagle 3 to tie Doctor Watson, and from just a little over 220 yards out, no less, Phil seemed to chicken out and ended up bumping two wedges to within 4 feet of the cup for a worthless birdie. It was almost comical as his caddie, Jim Mackay, tended the pin for Phil from a little over 70 yards out on the critical shot, like the Mickster was going to hole out or something!

And this from a guy who won last year’s Masters with a gut-check 4-iron from out of the pines on the final hole of Amen Corner! It makes Sunday’s submissive strategy against Watson even harder to fathom.

Not that Feherty ever stopped golly-geeing about Mickelson’s magic and how he keeps it exciting until the very end. Thank goodness there are still a few newspaper reporters in the media, and a very good one at the San Diego Union-Tribune in Tod Leonard.

Asked about his rationale for not letting Watson putt out so he would know exactly what to do at the final hole in question, Mickelson flipped the inquiry around and praised Watson. It’s called a misdirection answer, a common counter move often used by the pros.

“Bubba played too good,’’ he said of Watson’s closing, 5-under 67 that got the Scottsdale resident to 16 under, or one shot in front of Mickelson, the “homey’’ from nearby Rancho Santa Fe who closed with a 69.

“He made shot after shot, putt after putt. It was a wonderful round for him.’’

He’s right, Bubba was true to his nature as he aggressively swung away and never bagged his driver till he pulled out of the parking lot at Torrey. In the meantime, Mickelson had been playing conservative golf even before Sunday’s final round unraveled, a move that had been supported for the most part by the CBS crew, which partially explained the no-call at the end.

Asked his reasoning for screaming “Uncle’’ on his third shot at 18, Lefty replied: “I had 227 (yards) to carry (the water). If I hit a hybrid, the ball would have come out dead, so I wouldn’t have made it over the water. But the way my 3-iron is, the ball would have come out and went screaming over (the green).’’

Believe it or not, and despite the staggering odds against it, Mickelson argued that his best bet was to lay up and then try to hole his 64-degree wedge from a mere 72 yards out. Asked when the last time “Bones,’’ as Mackay is known, was asked to tend a pin on a shot from the fairway, Mickelson didn’t duck the hard ball that grazed his chin.

“Well, (the shot) is going to have a chance,’’ he countered. “About 10, 12, 14 times a year, I hit the pin.’’

And the odds of that happening on the 72nd hole at tenacious Torrey Pines in the final round of a PGA tournament with over $1 million on the line?

“I’m not sure,’’ he said of the one-in-a-million prayer. “Obviously, you need to hit a great shot and you need some luck.  I’m not naïve on that. I get it.’’

Apparently not, Lefty. The guys at CBS might have been “oohing and aahing’’ like they usually do when it comes to Mickelson’s incredible repertoire of shots, but the rest of us weren’t buying the white flag this time around.

The only thing I can say for Mickelson: At least he’s honest. Like when somebody asked him if he was feeling the sting of defeat more than the positive vibes he got from his runner-up finish, there was a moment of clarity.

“Little of both. You want me to elaborate,’’ he said, clearing the intense air with a few laughs from his media-laden gallery.

“I’m disappointed because I wanted to start the year off with a win,’’ he said. “I wanted to get some momentum early on the West Cast. But on the other hand, I played really good golf and gave myself an opportunity. I played well on Sunday and had a good tournament. I’ll use this as a springboard for next week.’’

That’s what’s weird: I believe that’s exactly what he’ll do. Even though with Phil you never really know for sure, I think his third win at the TPC Scottsdale this week, which would mark three different decades as a champion here, is just a shout away.

The field isn’t overly fierce, with only four players in the top 20 of the world rankings, and only 18 in the top 50. Besides, Phil’s the only guy in the top 10 (No. 5) even if defending champ Hunter Mahan, rookie Jhonattan Vegas, bomber Dustin Johnson and Bubba all look like they’re playing brilliantly as they make their way to Scottsdale.

Yes, this Phoenix Open looks like it’s shaping up nicely to turn out as yet another left-handed compliment. Having lived in the Valley during the 1990s and hung out plenty over the past 10 years at Grayhawk and Whisper Rock, this certainly is familiar territory for the Thrill.

The only question that lingers: Has Mickelson recovered from that one-hole knockout delivered by J.B. Holmes three years ago at the Phoenix Open? You remember the haymaker, when Holmes belted a monster drive on the 18th hole and made birdie while Mickelson bunted a fairway wood down the middle for and ensuing par, another conservative move that turned out to be sudden death.

Which was, basically, what Phil avoided Sunday when he got it over early and secured second place. Hey, we love Phil just like everybody else, but you have to call a spade a spade, especially when it digs its own hole.

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