One thing is certain about the 2012 PGA Tour season: it’s not going to be boring.
Not with a rejuvenated Phil Mickelson stalking the fairways.
He was Flawless Phil a week ago at Pebble Beach, scorching that historic track with a closing 64 that earned him the 40th PGA Tour victory of his career while crushing arch-rival Tiger Woods like a bug on a windshield.
He was Fearless Phil on Sunday at storied Riviera Country Club. He didn’t play perfect golf this time, but he overcame a pair of three-putts from long distance during the closing stretch with a dramatic 72nd-hole birdie. Bill Haas won in a playoff with an even more-dramatic stroke, a 40-foot birdie putt by Bill Haas.
Haas, who shot a closing 69, rolled in a long putt at the 10th green, the second playoff hole. Mickelson, who had laid up in the rough on the short par 4, hit a flop shot that bounded just over the green into a bunker. He wasn’t able to hole the sand shot to stay alive. Keegan Bradley, who had pitched to 12 feet behind the pin on the fringe, narrowly missed his birdie putt, giving the hard-won victory to Haas, 29.
It was an exciting finish. Fearless Phil saved the best for last at Riviera’s famed and tough par-4 18th. And he called it, sort of. On the tee, Mickelson told Bradley, “Let’s go make a couple of 3s.”
They fulfilled his prophesy. Mickelson stood over a 26-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the final green needing to make it to join Haas at seven under par. He poured it in the middle of the cup, causing the fans around the amphitheater green to roar and jump to their feet while Mickelson gave an emphatic fist pump, which he followed with a fist-bump with caddie Jim (Bones) Mackay.
Then Bradley, needing to hole his 15-footer for birdie to join the playoff, rolled his putt in on top of Mickelson’s. Another huge roar, another emotional fist pump. Two 3s, believe it or not.
Haas, who was warming up in case of a playoff, couldn’t have had any doubt about what had transpired. Two thundering roars and two minor earthquakes could only mean two opponents for him in the playoff. In the end, though, it was Haas who came through for the victory, just as he did when he won the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup last season.
The ending was surprising because this had seemed like Mickelson’s week from the start. It was practically a home game as he commuted to the course by plane, flying it himself from his home in Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego to the nearby Santa Monica airport, a quick flight.
Plus, things just seemed to go his way early. Mickelson closed out his first round by chipping in for birdie at the 18th, then holed an approach shot from 110 yards at the eighth hole for eagle during the second round. He stalled somewhat in the third round, allowing the field to bunch closely behind him, but he and PGA Championship winner Bradley began the final round tied at seven under par.
They still shared the lead when they birdied the par-5 11th on Sunday, Keegan with a two-putt birdie from just off the front edge of the green and Mickelson with a five-footer after a sweet wedge shot. From there, the lead got passed around like a hot potato until Mickelson and Bradley came to the final hole needing birdies to tie Haas.
Before Pebble Beach, the 2012 golf season had involved a revolving cast of characters with victories by Johnson Wagner, Mark Wilson, Brandt Snedeker and Kyle Stanley, but Mickelson’s sudden and dramatic resurgence has breathed new life and new excitement into the tour.
Mickelson lost, but you can go ahead and pencil his name in as your early Masters favorite after this showing.
While you’re at it, write in Haas and Bradley on your Ryder Cup lineup card, too. It’ll be a major upset if those two players aren’t playing for the U.S. this fall at Medinah.