Phil Mickelson scintillates fans in Phoenix with incredible near 59 in opening round

Phil Mickelson scintillates fans in Phoenix with incredible near 59 in opening round

Phil Mickelson reacts after his putt for a 59 lipped out on the final hole.
Hunter Martin/Getty Images

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Just another crummy 60.

Just kidding, Phil.

The best part of Phil Mickelson's scintillating opening-round 60 on Thursday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open was watching the reactions to that last, good-looking, this-is-for-59 putt. A putt for 59 is pretty much the most exciting shot in golf because it's just about as rare as three-toed dodo birds.

Phil's penultimate putt was from 20 feet on the 9th green (he started his round on No. 10) and was rolling on a good line. Mickelson stared it down, raised the putter with his right arm and began to walk it in. It looked in, it was in and he knew it was in the whole time until … it wasn't.

(Related Photos: Mickelson nearly shoots 59)

When Phil's ball went into the cup and then shockingly horseshoed out, Phil bent over at the waist in disbelief and, of course, smiled. Phil will smile at just about anything. That's just him, and that's why fans love him.

Then he put his hands on his head and, if you can lip-read (you can watch it on the thousands of replays Golf Channel will air before the tournament is over), he says, "Are you kidding me?"

Meanwhile, caddie Jim (Bones) Mackay was just as certain it was in. When the ball spun around the cup and boomeranged back, he fell to his knees and then to his elbows. He was on all fours, holding his head, on the green.

When was the last time Bones wound up on all fours on a green? Good question.

"The last time was probably Sunday in Augusta last year when Phil's eagle putt from 15 feet went right over the edge of the cup," Mackay said. "Well, maybe I was only on all twos there. But it was the same thing as today. My first thought was, How did I get down here?"

This is why Bones and Mickelson get along so well. They're emotional about the game and about shots, and they're not afraid to show it. "I just love that about Bones that he's living and dying with the good and the bad," Phil said. "We've had a lot of fun together."

Thursday was one of the fun days. Phil was a hair away from 59. Maybe even 58. At the 8th hole, his next to last, he had a similar 25-footer that died just short of the cup. A little more pace, Phil said, and that putt was certainly in too.

Golfers who challenge 59 always try to say they weren't thinking about it and weren't fazed by the iconic number, but they're usually lying. Phil made no pretense about it. He wanted it, and he was thinking about it even before he made the turn. The man was born to be a crowd-pleaser. Tiger Woods has a ridiculous record, he's performed thrilling theatrics and he owns 35 more PGA Tour titles than Phil, but there's no question Phil's the better showman.

Phil admitted he started thinking 59, maybe even 58, after he birdied the 18th hole, his ninth, and then knocked in another birdie putt on No. 1.

"Well, 60 is awesome, and I'm ecstatic to shoot 60," he said. "But there's a big difference between 60 and 59. There's not a big difference between 60 and 61, there really isn't. But there's a big barrier between 59, a Berlin Wall barrier."

It's like the difference between hitting .399 and .400 in baseball. Phil once shot 59 at the Grand Slam of Golf and has posted 58 in a practice round, but he has never pulled a 59 out of his hat in competition. Only five players — Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, David Duval, Stuart Appleby and Paul Goydos — have shot the magic number in PGA Tour competition.

(Related Photos: Mickelson's Career in Pictures)

"It would have been historic for me, something I'd always remember," he said. "I'll always remember that putt on the last hole, probably."

The putt for 59 was the adrenaline rush of the day at TPC Scottsdale.

"Six feet to go, it was in the center," Phil said. "Three feet to go, it was in the center. A foot to go, it was in the center. And even as it's approaching the hole, I couldn't envision which side of the hole it could possibly miss on. It ended up somehow dying off at the end, catching the lip, and at that speed to lip out is very rare. It's unfortunate. Man, you just don't get those opportunities very often, and to see that ball lip out instead of lip in, it's crushing."

There were a few other highlights that should go alongside that last near-miss. At the 13th hole, he lost his tee shot into the desert, chipped down the fairway with a seven-iron, then stuck a nine-iron to a foot to save par.

One opportunity that got away came at the par-5 15th. Phil reached the fringe in two, chipped to five feet below the hole and, wielding his claw putting stroke, hit a poor putt and missed what should've been an easy birdie.

"You can't putt like that," Phil lamented. "You've got to hit that aggressively. That miss almost spurred me on to putt more aggressively."

At 17, the drivable par-4 that has a pond lurking left of the green (a pond Phil is all too familiar with), he trusted the new driver he put in his bag on Tuesday and is madly in love with and drilled his tee ball onto the green. He two-putted from 50 feet for a routine birdie.

Mickelson reckoned his best shot of the day came at the par-4 7th, where the pin was tucked behind a bunker. From 196 yards, he dropped a six-iron shot to four feet and made the putt.

As proof of how well he wielded his new driver, he split the fairway on the final two holes and had a sand wedge in. The story behind his new-found driving success, he said, is his Callaway RAZR Fit Xtreme driver. Phil puts a lot of spin on the ball, so with his driver, he typically has to use less loft to make it playable. This driver is a low-spin model, so he can add loft, making it much easier to control. Phil explained how he used to have to make a different swing with the driver, that he had to tilt his body upward to get the de-lofted driver in the air. Now, he said happily, he can make the same move as he makes with his irons.

Whether that is this week's fix or a long-term solution — "This could be revolutionary for me," Phil gushed — remains to be seen. But no one is questioning his rationale after a 60.

The funny thing is, if Phil had gotten to 59, it would've been the second straight day the course yielded that score. Early week rain softened the greens, there was little wind on Thursday and scoring was perfect.

Bo Van Pelt fired 59 in the Wednesday pro-am, and it was Phil who gave Van Pelt a pep talk on the last tee box after play stacked up.

"Bo was nine under when he hit a shot on 17 that hit the pin and ended up a foot," Mickelson said. "It should've gone in. So I told him, 'Look, make a three on the last hole because you don't get a chance to shoot 59. I don't care where the pin is. Make a three. And here I am the next day making a four. Great."

Phil laughed at his sarcastic kicker. But that word summed up his day, his attitude and his effort.