The Players, round four: Mickelson flags up a summer of fun
“Butch, the 1st of many. Phil Mickelson.”
That message, on the 18th green flag Mickelson gave to Butch Harmon Sunday, summed up the size of Lefty’s continuing ambition. It also neatly encapsulated Harmon’s ambition as well.
If anyone failed to get the message, Mickelson’s new coach put himself about to make sure we all got it clear as the daylight that finally emerged between his star pupil and the rest of the field Sunday.
“I’ve got a nice spot right next to Tiger’s major championship flags, so hopefully we can start another row,” Harmon declared. The scurrilous thought immediately flashed through my mind that, in the gentlemanly world of golf, that was as close as we are likely to get to a two-fingered salute to Harmon’s former pupil Tiger Woods, who unceremoniously dumped him in 2002.
I have followed a highly entertaining thread on my favourite forum headed simply ‘Phil Mickelson - now in decline?’ It was started after the Masters last month, triggered by an article in the Naples Daily News of Florida that stated: “[Mickelson] can look back at his career, which by all means might be over, and say what if.”
The forum consensus seemed to be that Lefty would continue to win his fair share of events by being “consistently inconsistent". But Phil and Butch clearly want to address that issue and appear to be succeeding. Pre-BB (before Butch) Phil’s tournament record was 36-23-24 and AB (you work it out) 3-3-1. That’s pretty consistent, although pedants might suggest the other three are too.
What impresses me is the speed with which Mickelson seems able to adapt to the musings of his mentor. Having been consistently inconsistent off the tee all week, the two had a session Sunday morning to keep Phil’s hips and arms from moving too much. Lo and behold Lefty went out and had what Harmon described as “one of his best ball striking rounds you’ve ever seen him have". Better, some suggest, than at Augusta last year.
Don’t the stats show it. Mickelson went from 36% of fairways hit on Thursday to 71% on Sunday, and 67% of greens in regulation (33% on Friday) to 89% in round four. The only pity was that his putter surprised everyone by taking the day off. Otherwise his margin of victory would have been astronomical.
So you have been warned, there’s a new improved Lefty in town and he means business. But just in case you still don’t get it, here’s Harmon again: “This is going be great for the game, because this is going to make Tiger work harder. … Phil wants to try and catch him. Can he do it? Who knows. This is gonna be a fun summer.”
US Open here we come.
PS: I got so carried away I forgot to commiserate with Sean O’Hair, who really didn’t deserve to be so thoroughly drenched by the dreaded 17th hole from hell. He was just too nervous and tight, but his efforts still deserved to be rewarded with second spot. He denied it afterwards, but this result is going to hang over him for a while. It shouldn’t. He is a fine young talent and the results will come.
Interesting nevertheless to see second place occupied instead by Sergio Garcia, who even managed some flourishes with the putter for a change. That could make the US Open even more interesting, although the greens here didn’t quite shape up to the original ‘firm and fast’ expectations. Ernie Els was exceptionally rude about them Sunday: he called them disgusting. Woods may have been too polite to reveal similar thoughts.
They’re all currently under the wing of Butch Harmon.
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