If you’re a dyed-in-the-black-shirt-and-pinstripe-pants Phil Phan, you’d like to think that his 41st victory in Phoenix means he’ll run the table in 2013. Or at least that he’ll make some important noise at majors and snag a few other titles to get to closer to his goal of 50 victories.
Mickelson would agree with you there.
“I think that sets up the tone for the rest of the year,” he explained after winning the Waste Management Open.
I really started to play well, but for me, the rest of the year took a turn on Tuesday when I got my new driver. It just changed my whole deal. When I stood up—here at TPC Scottsdale, water is down the left on a lot of holes, down left on 10, on 15, on 17, and being able to hit those fairways and make birdies and play those holes aggressively, that's a big thing for me.
Water on the left for Mickelson, a lefty, is like water on the right for someone who hits banana balls.
I think it's going to change the rest of the year for me. I really do. My iron play has always been the strength of my game, and it was certainly good this week, but to drive it as easily as I did in play and to have the misses be so much less is going to set up for a very good year.
It’s hard to remember when, if ever, Phil Mickelson has been quite this positive about his golf game. Over the history of his career, it’s just been one little thing after another. If he gets the tee ball in play, then something slips up in the putting department, or he misses an approach to the green at a really important time. But Mickelson played with near total confidence, it appeared, although he did admit to being nervous before the final round.
“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 are in the lead,” he pointed out. “It's very easy to see to start seeing what you don't want the ball to do and hitting it there.”
In the past, as he said earlier in the week when taking back comments on tax issues, he’s made a few mental errors, and some slips of the tongue and golf club, and he’s hit some bad shots at the wrong times. But this time around, he was better able to manage his mind and his game.
“The thing I'm most excited about was the way I was able to regain control of my thoughts after a few shots early on that I didn't care for and come back and hit a number of good shots on the back 9 to do what I needed to do to win,” he explained.
His drives were not perfect early in the final round. He found the rough on the first, second and third holes, but he saved par. At the fifth and sixth he turned things around and found short grass off the tee. At the seventh, he choose a putter from 56 feet and holed out. It was the momentum swing he needed.
“The back nine, on 13 where I need to birdie, 13, 15, 17, the holes that you've got to birdie, because I'm planning on Brandt birdieing those,” Mickelson said about his strategy.
At the 13th and 15th, both par-fives, he took care of business with birdies. At the 16th, he hit inside two feet from the flagstick.
At the 17th, the drivable par-four, as he said, he got fortunate with a tee shot that slid toward the water, but stopped in the rough. He made birdie there and just had one hole to play with a significant lead.
“Hitting a good tee shot on 13 and on 15 and one on 17 that was marginal but got lucky, those were important birdies,” he added. “I thought on 13 was where it started, because I ended up picking up a shot there where all I was trying to do was make birdie so I didn't lose one.”
Brandt Snedeker kept the pressure on Mickelson, but could not keep Lefty from pulling away.
“It was a ton of fun.” Snedeker said. “To be in the last group with Phil and kind of trade birdie for birdie and make up some ground was a lot of fun. It's what we play for.”
Snedeker was minus-12 for the weekend, and that was not good enough to overtake Mickelson’s lead.
“Sometimes you have to tip your hat and say Phil played unbelievable and deserved to win," Snedeker added.
This week Mickelson saw more fairways than anyone can remember him hitting in his career. That set him up to take advantage of what has always been a superb iron and wedge game.
As Snedeker pointed out about Mickelson, "He just hits shots after shots that are phenomenal when he needs to.”
Is it really a new chapter in what has already been an extraordinary career? We only have to wait a couple days to find out. Mickelson just finished playing his third of five events in a row. Come Thursday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, there will be no doubt about whether this victory was a one-off or the beginning of an onslaught of Mickelson victories in 2013.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.
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