Phil Mickelson Wins the AT&T

Normally I don’t write about golf tournaments. There are enough places on the web where you can read about that. I watched the final round of the AT&T yesterday, though, and I just have to have my say.

We didn’t get to see the action until the Mickelson group was on the ninth green, because the Illinois-Michigan basketball game on CBS went over the scheduled time. By then, the Mickelson-Woods pairing had sorted itself out. Mickelson began the day at -9, Woods at -11. When they walked off the eighth green, it was Mickelson -14, Woods -10. The rout was on.

Woods was putting under ten feet like a 15-handicapper, and continued to do that for the rest of the round. Mickelson, on the other hand, couldn’t miss from anywhere. Woods was hitting fairways, but hitting indifferent irons and never giving himself decent birdie chances. Woods’s moment of hope arose when, trailing by 5 with seven holes to go, he jarred a shot from the bunker for a birdie and a certain two-shot swing on Mickelson, who was facing a par putt of over 30 feet. Phil canned it. Moment of hope over. Tiger picked up only the single stroke and resigned himself to defeat.

On the day, Mickelson was eleven shots better than Woods, and if it had been match play, would have won 7&5. No one beat the old Tiger Woods like that, but the new version could be a different matter. First Robert Rock, now Phil. Tiger is good enough still to contend on Sunday; he hasn’t forgotten how to play golf. He’s not good enough to close the deal, though. Even though Woods was a front-runner, and never a chaser, this performance wasn’t even a valiant try. As for Tiger the Intimidator, Phil played like it was “Tiger Who?”

As for Phil, it seems that he needs to be inspired, and that he certainly was this week. Technically, he switched shafts on his driver and tweaked the clubhead, letting him put ball after ball in the fairway off the tee. His putting was perfect, not only holing the 30-footer mentioned above, but a 40-footer for par two holes later. His irons always found the right part of the green,and his wedge game was razor sharp. Watching him play the back nine at Pebble Beach, we saw an amazing display of one right shot after another.

There was more going on than shotmaking, though. Things in the Mickelson family have been in a bit of turmoil lately. They’re selling their house. Their eldest daughter was ill. He is suing to find the identity of a blogger who posted defaming comments about him and his family. I can only guess that there needed to be something going right, to put something positive in the family arena, and winning a golf tournament would be just the thing.

Phil was focused all day. Not too high, not too low. Once he took the lead on the front nine, there would be no giving it back. It was a good win for golf, a great win for the Mickelsons, which, considering the context, might be looked back on as important as one of his major titles.

Golf needs a star to emerge this year. One swallow does not spring make, but I’m hoping Lefty follows up this win with a tremendous year.

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