AUGUSTA, Ga. WARNING: This reporter has sipped from the Saturday-at-Augusta Kool-Aid, mixed by Dr. Phil himself. It comes from walking a few holes on a spectacular afternoon with his missus, the buoyant Amy Mickelson, watching Lefty play any number of you-got-to-be-kidding-me shots, listening to his post-round remarks. If you were there you'd be drinking it, too.
You want the good Phil? Smashed drive on No. 15; zapped iron trickles off the green; chip shot that was nothing but sweet spot; holed putt. With his birdie 4 there, Mickelson was suddenly five under and in the game. You want the evil Phil? He missed the green on the par-3 16th, to a back-right hole location that a drawing lefthander should eat right up; stubby chip; par putt that never had a chance. He fell back to four under, came in on that score and entered the Sunday shoot-out/finale trailing Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry by seven. He's tied with Tiger Woods. "I think I need to shoot a 64 or 65, and that may give me a very good chance," he said.
After watching and listening to the guy, you actually think it's possible. Even though his three rounds are 73, 68 and 71. Even though he will be playing the Sunday round with Tiger, a pairing in which he has struggled in the past. (Even when they played together as partners, in the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills, Phil never looked comfortable.) Plus, there was that silliness in the offseason, when Woods's caddie, Steve Williams, made disparaging remarks about Mickelson to a reporter in New Zealand. Who knows how, if at all, that will affect Mickelson's state-of-mind. Chances are, not at all. But you never know. Golf, Sunday at Augusta most particularly, is a head game.
And that makes you think 64 or 65 for Mickelson and of course for Tiger, too is in the realm of the possible. Last week in Houston, when Mickelson shot a million and missed the cut, his brain was all scattered. He in no way used this as an excuse, but the Mickelson home back in Rancho Santa Fe, in suburban San Diego, was like an infirmary. All three kids were ill: a nasty virus for Evan, a wicked flu for Sophia, and not one but two broken hands for Amanda, earned in separate sporting accidents. Amy even sprained her toe and was hobbling around.
Phil to Amy, after missing the cut in Houston: "I'm coming home."
Amy to Phil: "No you're not. If you come home, all that's going to happen is you're going to get sick. Go to Augusta." Do not pass go. Do not worry about collecting $200. But do try to get yourself a third green jacket.
And so Mickelson came straight from Houston to Augusta. He worked with his swing coach, Butch Harmon. The health bulletins from home were improving. Still, Phil was in a big rented house by himself. Over the course of the week, he came to accept that the kids would not be able to come to Augusta for the weekend or Easter Sunday. But things improved enough on the health front by Friday that Amy was able to fly to Augusta and leave her mother in charge of the Mickelson Hospital. So he's got that going for him, which is nice.
Mickelson will have two things to play for on Sunday. The first and by far the most important, of course, is to shoot his 64 or 65, leapfrog 10 or so players, and win the event. His second goal would be to shoot a lower score than Tiger. Why? Because you know that Tiger will be trying to shoot a lower score than Phil, and you know if he does he'll tuck it away for future use, one more little piece of Phil that he owns. With Tiger, as with no other golfer before him, it's always an arms race. If Mickelson can somehow shoot a lower score than Tiger on Sunday, it will help Mickelson sometime, somewhere.
Some news outlets are reporting that Phil plans to serenade Tiger and Stevie with a bar or two of "Somewhere," the old Barbra Streisand standard, on the first tee Sunday, right around 1:35 p.m Eastern. We cannot confirm these reports. Still, should it turn into a group sing, both for home viewers and those of you at Augusta National, you may find it helpful to refresh yourself with this stanza:
"Hold my hand and we're half way there/
Just hold my hand and I'll take you there/
It'd be a fantasy, of the Ben-Crenshaw-at-Brookline variety, to think that the winner could come out of the seventh-to-last group. But what makes it semi-feasible is that Augusta National has not been this conducive to scoring in years. There seems to be more grass, which is allowing for more aggressive chip shots. Because of the storm that passed through Augusta as Friday turned into Saturday, the greens were soft and receptive.
The club chairman, Billy Payne, is eager to bring back the Sunday roars of yore, and it's unlikely that the club will do anything, in terms of the Sunday setup of greens and tees, to make the course exceptionally penal. If there's a 64 or a 65 out of the 1:35 p.m. tee time, you'll hear roars like nothing since Nicklaus went low on Sunday in '86.
Phil was remembering Jack's amazing back-nine final-round 30 when he came in from Saturday play. Listening to him, it was hard not to get caught up in the fantasy.