SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. The Greatest Show on Grass became the Greatest Show in Ice. With a four-hour frost delay (in a desert?), golf fans went in search of alternative entertainment to pass the time. Luckily there is no shortage of bars at the Waste(d) Management Phoenix Open. At least with these temperatures, there was no doubt the beer would be cold.
Fans trooped through the gates wrapped up in beanies, hoodies, scarves, puffa jackets, boots and fur. It was more like an aprÃ¨s-ski party at Whistler than a golf tournament in Arizona.
When the golf course finally thawed out for play at 11:40 EST, the stellar group of Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Bill Haas drew most of those who preferred a brisk, warming walk to hunkering down beneath blankets at the par three 16th. Official survey results revealed that random displays of bare flesh reached an all-time tournament low. Thankfully, there were no reports of anyone being treated for exposure.
The Phil and Bubba Show was at the center of all that Sunday excitement last week at the Farmers Insurance Open. In pairing them together again, the PGA Tour was clearly hoping to recapture that drama. Mickelson obliged, shooting his way onto the leaderboard at four under par. But Haas stole their thunder after posting a six-under 66. He leads with Jason Bohn, Tom Gillis and Tom Lehman. "It was a fun pairing," Mickelson said. "I liked them putting Tiger and Rocco together last week, too. I like what they're doing. It gets people watching more on Thursday and Friday."
Bubba, the winner at Torrey Pines, was one under par in Scottsdale's wintry conditions. Understandable, really. It is no easy task maintaining such a high; Thursday in the cool air of the desert is not Sunday in the heat of California. "I'm tired," he said after his round. "Last week drained me. The cold weather and the delays, not knowing what we are doing, haven't helped either. Hopefully I can get some rest and come back stronger." The frost delays may just give him the break he needs. With a late tee time for Friday and the tournament playing catch-up, he may not tee it up again until Saturday.
Watson is now a cult figure on tour thanks to his twitter addiction and trick shots he posts on YouTube. He plays the game with such an engaging, uncomplicated, don't-think-and-rip-it style. In a world populated by tour pros bamboozled by their own flawed swing thoughts, twisted this way and that on the driving range by an army of gurus, Watson has never had a lesson in his life. "It's funny for me when I see guys with training aids, and a swing coach, and a chipping and putting coach and a mind coach," Watson said. "It just doesn't make sense to me. If you're good, you're gonna find a way to play good."
Perhaps Bubba's doctrine is the truth. The answer lies within. Golf is art, not science. Everything else is bunkum. Phil seems to have seen the light again. He said last week that he has finally had it with tinkering with his swing. He is a born again free-thinker. Free-flowing Phil is back and swinging happy.
While Phil has picked up Arnold Palmer's baton and carried forward the spirit of the King's gung-ho style, Watson has always seemed a freak, a one-off. But he revealed that he, too, was inspired by a boyhood idol not an American but, surprisingly, the swashbuckling Seve Ballesteros from Spain. Bubba is a graduate of the Ballesteros School of Ad-Libbed Golf.
"He was a real shotmaker," Watson said. "When he hit into trouble, he always found a way to get out. He just made unbelievable birdies and won tournaments. It was his imagination taking over. You can't teach that. You just do it. He always made something out of nothing. That's what I admired. That's the way I play."
It's a gambling style of golf. Twist or bust? "I can't stop myself going at the flags; I'm an entertainer," Watson said.
In Scottsdale, entertainment headquarters is located at the par-3 16th. "It's the nearest we get to the Ryder Cup or a football stadium," Watson said. "But once a year with all that rowdiness is enough. It would lose its thrill if it were every week."