Monday, June 19, 2006
Luck ran out on Phil
By Skip Bayless Page 2
Please don't call him Phil Van de Velde. That's giving him too much credit.
Don't tell me he suddenly reverted to being Phil the Thrill and shot himself in the Winged Foot, gambling and losing on the final hole of the United States Open. Don't excuse his Open-blowing double bogey as strategic foolishness. No, it was just justice.
The truth was, Phil Mickelson didn't play well enough to win this Open, and it finally caught up with him on the last hole. Luck and time finally ran out on him.
Mickelson blows it down the stretch.
He played the final hole just the way he had played hole after great-escape hole from Thursday through Sunday. But when it mattered most, Mickelson couldn't cancel another terrible tee shot with another shades-of-Seve recovery.
This wasn't a mental blunder. This was purely physical. Needing par to win, he should have hit driver on 18, and he did. He just shouldn't have bounced it off the hospitality tent.
So don't buy Mickelson's excuse.
"I am such an idiot," he said, playing the sympathy card much better than he played No. 18 on Sunday.
No, this had nothing to do with Jean Van de Velde's situation at the 1999 British Open. Van de Velde needed to make only a double bogey to win and wound up making a triple.
Again, Mickelson needed par.
Remember, he had birdied Nos. 11 and 15 out of the rough to take a two-shot lead. On the par-4 17th, he hit another banana-slice, this one landing in a trash bag beyond the trees and gaining him a lucky drop on the trampled-down spectator path. And he hit another thing of beauty, a smoked fade that curved around the trees and chased up into the middle of the green. What a par that was.
So now Mickelson needed to make one more 4 on the par-4 18th. Sure, he could have played for a bogey and an 18-hole Monday playoff. But come on. This was Phil Mickelson, winner of two straight majors. This, as any fan at Winged Foot would have told you, was Phil "Freakin'" Mickelson, the toast of New York, the equivalent of Derek Jeter playing at Yankee Stadium.
No. 18 isn't a 3-wood or 3-iron hole. It's a driver hole. Besides, Mickelson was carrying only a 4-wood. And as wildly as he was driving the ball, why should he risk missing the fairway with a 4-wood and leaving himself 250 yards from the flag?
No, he should have hit his driver and hoped for the best. After all, the odds were with him. He hadn't hit a fairway on the back nine.
But he missed this one, too. He hit a push slice that was headed for Scarsdale when it caromed off the hospitality tent. That ball could have ended up behind a tree or at the bottom of the 6-inch rough. But no, it came to rest on the trampled path.
Another break. Meant to be?
So what was he supposed to do, wedge out sideways into the fairway and leave himself 150 yards uphill to the pin? No, you can't blame Mickelson for trying to hit a 200-yard cut shot through the trees and up near the green. He had been living off shots like this for four days.
Why risk having to stay another night and deal with Geoff Ogilvy in an 18-hole playoff? Ogilvy won this year's Accenture Match Play. Ogilvy wouldn't be afraid.
And Mickelson knew he had been driving the ball all over Westchester County.
No, Mickelson made the right play. He just finally hit a bad escape shot. He caught it fat and sent a low slice into a tree, which sent it right back at him. But hark, another break!
Again the ball came to rest on the trampled path, about 175 yards from the flag. So now what? Chip out into the fairway and lie three?
Not if you think you can take a 9-iron and fly it over the trees and up onto or near the green. That's exactly what Mickelson did. Hit a pretty great shot.
Unfortunately, it plugged in the greenside bunker. NBC's Gary Koch said it was the first plugged lie he had seen in an 18th-hole bunker all week. Mickelson's luck had run out. Even he couldn't get that sand shot up and down.
So Ogilvy won, as he deserved to. Ogilvy played a much more solid final round of golf. Ogilvy parred the final four holes -- even though that required a chip-in on 17 that would have run 8 or 10 feet past if it hadn't dived into the hole.
Mickelson had been daring the devil all day -- for four days, really -- and the devil finally got him on 18. But Mickelson didn't go Van de Velde. He just failed to pull off one last miracle.
It was miraculous enough that he led by two with three holes to go. Good heavens, on No. 5 Phil Mickelson had tried to hit a 4-wood out of the deep rough and had advanced the ball all of one yard. It would have been un-American for Mickelson to win our national championship after hitting a shot like that.
And what's almost as dangerous as driving a motorcycle without a helmet? Missing fairways at the U.S. Open. Mickelson hit only 24 of 56! He hit only two on Sunday! And he nearly lived to aw-shucks about it!
That's testimony to his courageous creativity from the jungle rough and from the trees, to his short-game artistry and to the purity of his putting stroke on Winged Foot's tricky, bumpy greens. He needed only 27 putts in shooting 70 in the first round and 69 in the third.
That's magical scrambling.
And borrowed time.
The truth is that Phil Mickelson will probably never have a better chance to win an Open. This should have been an Open and shut case. Tiger Woods had missed his first cut at a major, and Mickelson might as well have been playing a home game.
Yes, he should be sick about this one. But not just because of what happened on 18. Because of what happened on tee after tee.
That Calloway Fusion driver of his turned into the Calloway Confusion. If only Mickelson had spent as many pre-Open hours working on his driving accuracy as he did on his short game.
This time, Mickelson carried only his "slice" driver. Yet he alternately managed to banana-slice and duck-hook it into places humans hadn't visited in these parts since "Last of the Mohicans."
Between Mickelson and Woods (who hit only 7 of 28 fairways), you haven't seen such bad driving this side of Beirut. But for 71 holes, Mickelson kept making birdies and pars from Bogeyville. Much of it was greatness -- and some of it was luck.
Has any player ever benefited from more breaks in one major championship? Again and again, Mickelson got astonishing bounces or lies.
One of the 24 fairways he hit included No. 1 on Saturday, when he snap-hooked his drive into a tree -- which spat the ball back into the middle of the fairway. Yes, this looked like Phil's week.
Even late Sunday, it looked as if he would survive because the golf gods had ordained it. Padraig Harrington was 2-under through 15, then bogeyed the last three. You da man, Phil! Jim Furyk missed a 5-footer on 18 that eventually kept him out of a playoff. In the hole, Phil! Poor Colin Montgomery was poised in the middle of the 18th fairway to win his first major in 58 tries when he switched clubs at the last second and hit the kind of shot that would have inspired Shakespeare to write a tragedy.
Good grief, even Ogilvy's nearly 300-yard tee shot on 18 rolled up to the edge of a sand-filled divot. Then Ogilvy's approach landed a foot from greatness and sucked back down the hill off the green.
It's yours, Phil!
But Ogilvy got it up and down, and Mickelson couldn't.
Ultimately, did Mickelson succumb to the pressure to win his third straight major? For once, was he choking because Tiger wasn't breathing down his neck -- because he knew he should win after Woods missed the cut? Or was he just trying too hard to live up to the expectations of New York fans whose roaring love seemed weird even to Mickelson?
Whatever, he was lucky to last as long as he did.
Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.