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Mickelson Wins Third Waste Management Phoenix Open “Huffs Stuff” Arizona Golf Blog by Bill Huffman

From “Huff’s Stuff” Arizona Golf Blog by Bill Huffman at the Arizona Golf Authority.

With his wire-to-wire win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Sunday, Phil Mickelson joined some famous names in the tournament’s history. But asked what it meant to move alongside legends like Arnold Palmer and Johnny Miller, Lefty took the more practical approach rather than the philosophical.

Phil Mickleson WMPO 2013 Champion - Arizona Golf Authority“I’m sure later on I will think about it, but all I cared about was getting a win because I was nervous,” admitted Mickelson, who became the first player since Rory McIlroy in the 2009 U.S. Open to hold the lead after every round, and the first player since Steve Jones in 1997 to do so at the Phoenix Open.

“I hadn’t won in a while, I hadn’t been in contention, and I know how guys – look what happened last year when guys were in the lead. It’s very easy to start to seeing what you don’t want the ball to do and hitting it there. Early on (Sunday), I hit a couple of shots like that.

“So to be able to regain control of my thoughts, to see where I want the ball to go and direct it there and to hit the shots that I hit on the back side, which was enough to win the golf tournament, that’s what I take away from this tournament more than any of those records.”

Yes, things did get “practical” during for the final round for Phil even though he never fell below a three-shot advantage over Brandt Snedeker at the TPC Scottsdale. And, yes, there were some records that were achieved along the way, although Lefty let a bunch slip away after his closing 4-under-par 67 left him in a tie with Mark Calcavecchia for the lowest total in tournament history – a 28-under 256.

Not that the fans minded such an average performance from the Valley’s favorite son. Hey, you place Mickelson atop the leader board for four straight days in a dominating performance, add four consecutive days of good weather with temperatures around 70 degrees, and you’ve got the successful formula that was adhered to by the Thunderbirds for the tournament’s 78th edition.

The only surprise that popped up on the final day was that the weekly attendance record wasn’t shattered after Saturday’s record throng of 179,022. But only 58,791 spectators turned out to witness Phil’s victory parade, which moved him alongside Palmer, Calcavecchia and Gene Littler as those who pulled off the Phoenix Open hat trick. Still, the total for the week was 525,281, or 12,075 short of the still-standing record of 538,356 who showed up in 2008.

Maybe Mickelson’s six-stroke lead entering the final round over Snedeker was a gate crusher, or maybe the Super Bowl’s marquee of San Francisco vs. Baltimore kept people from coming out to see Phil’s victory parade, or maybe it was some gray skies that spit up a little rain from time to time. Whatever the reasons, it was pretty quiet for the final 18 holes after three raucous days.

The only real drama came when Mickelson birdied the 17th to move to 28-under and into a tie with Calc, who set the 72-hole standard in 2001. Mickelson has had his problems on the 18th hole, including a double bogey there in Round 2 and a one-hole playoff loss to J.B. Holmes in 2008. But he made a routine par — after he got a free drop out of the hospitality area — to secure his share of tournament lore.

Mickelson hadn’t won since the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, a span of a little over a year, and hadn’t been in contention after two outings this year. But as he has often done in the past, he went from nowhere to “da man” in just a few days, as he opened with a record-tying 60 that came within a lip-out of being 59, and then added rounds of 65 and 64. Asked how he does it – find his game quickly – he smiled big.

“You can find something quickly,” he said of his drives that averaged 305 yards for the week and the fact he has now gone 96 holes without a three-putt.

“I certainly found something from (instructor) Butch Harmon, who I saw earlier this week.”

Mickelson said he had been “fractionally off” with his take-away. But you never would have known it as he boomed big drives down the middle of most every fairway but the 18th, and made a boatload of putts, especially when he had to turn back Snedeker, who was the runner-up for a second straight week following his second-place finish to Tiger Woods in San Diego.

Most years, Snedeker’s 24-under score would have been good enough to win. And when you close with a 65, as Snedeker did, that will make up some ground. But not this time, a fact that Scott Piercy (61, 23 under) and Ryan Moore (65, 22 under) also discovered. Then again, who would have guessed that the TPC would play so easy, as the average score for the week was a record-breaking 68.5.

“It was a ton of fun to be in the last group with Phil,” said Snedeker, who at No. 7 in the world was the highest ranked player in the field.

“I’d have liked to have put a little more pressure on him, but Phil played unbelievable. Then again, I played great all four rounds, Phil just played better.”

Not only did Mickelson get his third Phoenix Open win, but he also posted his sixth career victory in Arizona, which tied him with Miller. “The Desert Fox,” who was here doing his first Phoenix Open broadcast for NBC, had four victories in Tucson and two in Phoenix, while Mickelson has now won in each city three times.

What were the keys for Lefty’s record-tying romp? Well, the opening 60 went a long way in establishing his third career wire-to-wire win. But he owned the par 3s, as he was 9 under on them for the week, or two strokes better than anybody had ever played them since the TPC opened in 1987. Of course, four of those 2s came during that 60, which happened to be a career best.

If there was ever any doubt that this Phoenix Open was all about Mickelson, it came early on Sunday at the par-3 seventh hole, where Mickelson faced a roller-coaster putt from 56 feet. Forget about the fact it was a birdie putt; Mickelson’s putting line was boxed out to the cup and he had to take the putt onto the fringe and then back to the putting surface because of the narrow angle.

Bam! Center of the cup for an unlikely birdie that got Mickelson to 25 under and held off Snedeker, who had just made a second birdie in a row. Lefty called the putt “crazy good,” and of the nine 2s on his scorecard for the week, that one had to be the best.

“I had to putt 20 feet through the fringe. The challenge of that was to judge the speed where half the putt is through the fringe and half is on the green,” he said. “I got lucky to have made it, obviously.

“I was just trying to two-putt it. With Brandt in there close, that was a big momentum change for us.”

Mickelson said he never expected Snedeker to go away, and realized that even though he had never lost the lead since Day One that there would be challenges on Sunday.

“The back nine, I needed to birdie 13, 15 and 17, because I’m planning on Brandt making birdie on those holes,” Mickelson said of his game plan. “I thought if I can do that and not give those shots away, I should be able to maintain the lead.

“Hitting a good tee shot on 13 and on 15, and one on 17 that was marginal but got lucky (stayed out of the water), those were important birdies.”

Mickelson also had some PGA Tour records in his sights, but those did not materialize. He did extend his current streak of 10 consecutive seasons with at least one victory, with the next-best player on that list being Dustin Johnson with six seasons in a row. Unbelievably, Mickelson has won at least once in 19 different seasons, with the only players to have done that more being Jack Nicklaus (24) and Sam Snead (21).

And just to add a little more Tour trivia, Mickelson is only the second player in history to record 60 twice, joining Zach Johnson in that department. But giving him a little individuality, Mickelson is the only player to shoot 60 on the same course, as his other 11-under effort came in 2005, when he won his second Phoenix Open.

The victory kept the 42-year-old Mickelson in ninth place on the all-time list with 41 wins, or four short of the 45 recorded by No. 8 Walter Hagen. Besides Tucson, he also has won the Masters three times, Pebble Beach three times and the Bell South Classic on three occasions.

Asked to assess his game now that he’s getting a little past his prime, Mickelson never hesitated, thanking the technicians at Callaway for making “a driver that spins this low with this much loft for me,” and noting that now that he doesn’t have to tilt his shoulders for his driver, he’s hitting his irons better, too.

“I don’t know if that’s why they call it Xtreme, because it’s such an extremely low-spinning driver or not, but it’s been months in the works,” Mickelson said. “When I hit it Tuesday, I saw an immediate difference.”

“Now that I’m able to make the same swing with my irons as the driver and not to have two different ones, I feel that’s going to make a monumental difference in my game and that I could potentially play some of the best golf I’ve ever played.”

How that all works out is anybody’s guess, because after all, he’s Phil, as in “What will Phil do next?” But all of his good fortune related to the Phoenix Open and Arizona once again brought up the question about Mickelson returning to the Valley, where he lived for 12 years before moving back to San Diego, where he grew up. And he didn’t necessarily nix the idea, although whether or not he would abandon California over its high tax rate, as he suggested recently, never was mentioned.

“I’m not sure what we are going to do at the end of the year, but I really enjoy and miss the people and the friendships that we have here,” said Mickelson, who still has close working relationships with Grayhawk Golf Club, where the 19th hole is named Phil’s Grill, and Whisper Rock Golf Club, where he built the lower course and remains a member.

“I have all these ties. Plus, my brother is now the golf coach at ASU. There is a lot of great things about his community that lure me, and certainly I come here three, four times a year to go to an ASU game, golf, see my friends and what have you. I don’t know what’s in the cards for that.”

One thing we know for certain — if that’s possible when it comes to the popular Mickelson! — is that such a return to the desert would come with a hero’s welcome.

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