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Archive for Saturday, April 7, 2007

Commentary: Mickelson hasn’t been pretty, but at least he’s still around

April 7, 2007

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— His first shot rattled around trees and came to rest amid the pine needles and wildflowers. That was bad enough. But Phil Mickelson then made the decision that makes him Phil Mickelson.

"I thought I could hit it through a gap in the trees to (the green)," he said.

No matter if the gap was the size of a coin slot. Phil believed in Phil. That's what makes his game gush with bold strokes and oversized flaws and spectacular, undeniable, often goofy humanity.

It's also why his second shot on the 11th hole smacked against one tree, bounced off another one and began rolling deeper into the woods. As Mickelson watched it go, he thought what everyone watching at The Masters did.

"Thought I might have to pack my bags and go home after missing the cut," he said.

This was the story Friday. It wasn't just Mickelson's story. It was the full Masters story. The great golfers are being brought to their knees. The 18 holes of Augusta National are playing like the 12 Labors of Hercules.

Only three golfers are under par. Only one player in the top 10 has won a major tournament. And, surprise, it's not Tiger Woods.

If there's one thing we have learned from NASCAR besides drivers cheat as hard as baseball players, it's that everyone watches a car wreck. And, man, for so long Friday this second round looked like a four-car pileup.

Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia missed the cut. Woods had to turn left-handed on one shot, hit into the water on consecutive holes and made 8- and 20-foot putts to save bogey on two others.

But, right to the end Friday, no one displayed what this round was about quite like Mickelson. You saw everything in his bag. You saw him wilt. You saw him rise. You saw him choke, rally, blow drives, make putts and follow head-scratching decisions with mind-boggling shots.

You also saw him do something you rarely see from Mickelson: You saw him fight. When's the last time you could say that about Flabby Phil?

The two mind's-eye images of Mickelson are: 1) Him high-fiving and yukking it up with Fred Couples in the last Masters' final round like a couple of salesmen on a Vegas junket and; 2) Him hitting a dumb drive at the U.S. Open last summer and blowing the tournament.

Fighting isn't part of that portfolio. But, man, he fought Friday. He was sinking out of this tournament, right there at No. 11, when his second shot in the woods came to rest against a TV cable.

He was 6 over par. He couldn't control his drive. His long stretches of stumbling were broken by brief flurries of bumbling.

He put his driver to good use for perhaps the first time all day, using it to measure off a relief drop from the cable. Then he hacked out of the woods. And pitched to within six feet of the hole. Made the putt.

"Somehow I got a bogey out of that hole," he said.

Birdies followed at Nos. 13 and 15. On No. 17, he drove into the tree line and was still putting 10 feet for a birdie. That missed. But as he waited to putt on the final green, he took a long time reading up and down the leader board.

Here's what he saw: The Honda Classic. The Greater Milwaukee Open. Brett Wetterich? Tim Clark? Vaughn Taylor?

Good golfers. But can they handle this weekend?

"I know what it's like to win this and what it takes," Mickelson said.

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