What Phil Did Last

By Brian HewittFebruary 11, 2008, 5:00 pm
New golf joke:
Q: Whats the only thing worse than making an 11 on No. 14?
A: Making a 14 on No. 11.
No, nobody made a 14 on the 11th hole on the PGA TOUR over the last four days. But by now the whole golf world knows world No. 2 Phil Mickelson carded an 11 on the par 5 14th at Pebble Beach Saturday.
For what its worth, a lot of Monterey Peninsula veteran golf watchers think No. 14, an uphill, dogleg right, with a slight reverse camber to a nasty, split-level green complex, is the hardest hole on the course. Steve Lowery, who beat Vijay Singh in a Sunday playoff bogeyed 14 in the final round. So did Singh.
Its just not worth 11 pops.
So now Phils critics will come out in force again. Theyll recount all the makeable putts he missed just last week at the FBR Open down the stretch that allowed J.B. Holmes to catch him on the 72nd hole and beat him in a playoff.
Theyll remind us of the clutch of sloppy errors Phil made at Riviera last year that opened the door for Charles Howell III to beat him in a playoff there.
Theyll re-tell the story of the meltdown at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open when bad judgment and worse execution on the final hole cost Mickelson that championship and prompted him to label himself such an idiot moments after he had gone down in figurative flames .
Some will even think back to the 2002 PLAYERS when he 5-putted the 10th green.
What will Phil do next? they will snicker with glee while smugly rolling their eyes.
And they will all have missed the point.
The only thing Phil Mickelson was thinking about when he reached No. 14 Saturday at Pebble was winning the golf tournament. If theres any part of that you dont understand, read one of Tiger Woods biographies.
Mickelson was 2 under standing on the 14th tee Saturday and rightly figured a birdie there and a birdie on the par-5 18th, accompanied by one or two other birdies in between, would have putt him within striking distance of the lead which wound up at 9 under by the time darkness fell over the Del Monte Forest Saturday night.
For years now Americas top male golfers have been charged, as a group, with being fat and happy thanks to purses that have made millionaires out of players who never dreamed what the career money list would look like one day.
But what most people never realized was this: If you are massively-talented, highly-motivated and financially-secure for life, you can afford to play for first place and take the consequences when that noble goal doesnt work out every time.
Money isnt necessarily a disincentive. Ill look forward to coming back next year, Mickelson said late Saturday, not hiding from reporters after the 11 on 14. I always do.
And he will return with one thought in mind: Winning.
Go ahead and rip Phil for his shot selection at Winged Foot. I suspect nobody, in the cold aftermath of that galling defeat, was harder on Mickelson than Mickelson himself. But if you want to mock him for his 11 on 14 Saturday at Pebble, you just dont get it.
The mentality that allows a player to put himself in a position to run the risk of going down in flames, is the only mentality that, if allowed to incubate, will encourage players to beard the Tiger in his own den.
And that, after all, is the only thing professional golf needs more than Tiger Woods these days: Players who will truly challenge him.
Phil Mickelson likes to say its Tigers world and hes just living in it. But at least hes living in it without surrendering his hubris; without giving in to resignation.
Mickelsons crash and burn and missed cut at Pebble Beach was an unhappy accident but it didnt lack for color. In fact, Pebble Beach'where the reds are redder, the greens are greener and the blues are bluer'is a living advertisement for the advantages of HDTV.
The flushed face Mickelson wore late Saturday was unmistakable. But at least he came by it honestly.
Q: Whats the only thing worse than a making an 11 on No. 14.
A: Not having a good explanation why.
Saturday at Pebble Beach Phil Mickelson had one.
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