Commentary

Lefty's practice round the talk of Bay Hill

Originally Published: March 26, 2010
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- This is the sort of thing you want to broadcast to the world, an accomplishment that deserves some accolades, a feat that typically comes with some fawning.

But Phil Mickelson was surprised anyone wanted to make a big deal out of it, stunned that word got out, then treated the occasion like it was a leisurely round of golf, nothing more.

[+] EnlargePhil Mickelson
AP Photo/John RaouxWord spread quickly at Bay Hill about Phil Mickelson's 14-under 58 in an early-week practice round. He has stayed in the groove in Orlando, finishing his Friday round 1 shot off the lead.

Some round.

Earlier this week, Mickelson shot 58 at a golf course in Southern California that he decided to play as prep for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

His round included 12 birdies and an eagle on a 7,042-yard course designed by Fred Couples, with matching 29s on the front and back side.

So when Mickelson was asked for the details after moving into contention during the second round at Bay Hill, Lefty's response was interesting.

"How did you hear about that?"

Well, it actually came from his coach, Butch Harmon, who was understandably giddy at the news, knowing that a score like that -- regardless of the course and circumstances -- says something about the state of Phil's game.

Harmon told his pals at the United Kingdom's Sky Sports, they asked Phil about it, a bit of buzz ensued and … well, Phil, what are the details?

"I went to Palm Springs and played the Plantation course because the greens are the same here as Bay Hill, same grass," Mickelson said. "I ended up getting the putter going there as well, and shot 58. That was fun. Fun little course."

Lefty's longtime caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, was not with his boss that day, but said you could bet the score was legit.

"Over the years, I've probably played with him more than 100 times," Mackay said. "And he always plays from the back of the back [tees]. He told me the last two birdies he made were very tough, and it sounds like the course was not easy."

It wasn't.

Not according to Pete Lacoursiere, an assistant golf pro at Plantation Golf Club in Indio, Calif., where the members are still buzzing about the feat.

"This is considered a player's golf course, with firm fast greens, and the rough is really getting up there now," Lacoursiere said by phone. "For him to shoot that … he just ate it up. The member he was playing with said he was hitting everything inside of 10 feet. It was pretty remarkable when he came in and turned that card in. This is not an easy golf course.

"I guess the right-handed course record still stands."

That would be 61, meaning Mickelson bettered it by three shots.

According to Lacoursiere, Mickelson played 18 holes in the morning, ate lunch, then went out for another nine holes. After shooting 29, he was going to leave, but decided to play two more holes -- both of which he birdied. He was then in for the duration, hoping to break his personal record of 59, which he shot at the 2004 Grand Slam of Golf, an unofficial event. Mickelson birdied the last four holes for his 58.

Mickelson's best on the PGA Tour is a 60 at the 2005 FBR Open at TPC Scottsdale.

The PGA Tour record is a 59, shot three times: Al Geiberger (1977), Chip Beck (1991) and David Duval (1999). Nobody has ever broken 60 on the European Tour and it's been done just once on the LPGA Tour, by Annika Sorenstam, who shot 59 in 2001.

The good vibe seems to have carried across the country, as Mickelson followed his opening-round 71 at this week's Palmer with a 67 to trail second-round leaders Davis Love III, Ben Curtis and D.J. Trahan by a stroke.

And it was a tale of two nines. Mickelson shot a near flawless 32 on the back nine -- his first nine holes -- followed by a front nine that was the roller coaster that seems to mark his career.

Mickelson twice hit drives in the water and had a total of three penalty strokes.

But he also holed a pitching wedge for an eagle from 135 yards at the par-4 eighth to shoot a 35 over his final nine holes.

And his round included 11 one-putt greens.

"I putted great today," Mickelson said. "It was my best putting round of the year, and I feel so much better with the flatstick. I feel so much better on the greens, I have much better direction and I spent a bunch of time with [putting guru] Dave Stockton; and I feel like I don't have to attack every pin and I can still make birdies. I can just make those 15-, 20-footers. So it was a little bit different feel to the round today."

Mickelson needed this. He needed a good round, he needed a good tournament, he needed to be in contention over the weekend.

The start to the year has been a disappointment, although Mickelson has not performed poorly. He just hasn't lived up to the end of his 2009 season, when he beat Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and again at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and had golf fans yearning for a big year against the game's No. 1 player.

But just like Woods has had his off-the-course issues that have kept him away from the game, Mickelson has had personal problems to deal with, too. His wife, Amy, is battling breast cancer, and the details of her treatment and recovery have not been announced.

Mickelson has hinted that it has been a difficult situation, and at each of the past two tournaments he has played, Lefty has arrived on Wednesday night, playing without a practice round. So far this year, his best finish is a tie for eighth at Pebble Beach.

"It's important to get into contention and get that feel and that nervousness of being in one of the last few groups, having a chance to win the golf tournament, looking at the leaderboard, being able to focus on your own game -- all of those things combined," he said. "I haven't had that this year. I haven't played the way I expect to.

"And heading into this week, I felt very confident with where my game was headed, but I still need to shoot the numbers. Now that I feel that's coming, I still need to get into contention and be able to perform, and it's important for me to do that heading into Augusta."

That would be the home of the Masters, where Mickelson has won twice and where so many expect him to be a factor in two weeks.

Perhaps a ho-hum 58 that Mickelson sheepishly acknowledged shooting will be the impetus to another green jacket.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com