SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.- Just about the last golfer you want to spot six strokes going into the final round is Phil Mickelson. All right, Tiger Woods is right there in that category, too.
So it looks as if the Waste Management Phoenix Open title is already in Phil's very fashionable hip pocket.
However, just about the last golfer you want chasing you with a six-shot lead going into Sunday's final round these days may be Brandt Snedeker. He's not only one of the hottest players on tour, having finished second a week earlier at Torrey Pines, he's also the best putter on tour.
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If anybody can make enough putts to catch Phil here at the birdie-fest that is TPC Scottsdale, it's Snedeker. You may recall that he won the Tour Championship last fall, along with a $10 million bonus for claiming the FedEx Cup title. His swing looks improved from last season, and Snedeker is still holing putts from everywhere and making it look easy.
Pardon me for stating the obvious, but the WMPO (as local headline-writers call it) is Phil's to win or lose. He shot 64 today after a lackluster front nine, and he hasn't posted anything higher than 65. All he's done is get to 24 under par in 54 holes, his 189 total just one off the PGA Tour record of 188 set by Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic. It's a good thing he did because this tournament is something of a stampede. Eleven players are at 200 (13 under) or better.
"You've got to keep it going on this course because you'll get passed pretty quickly," Mickelson said. "Same thing tomorrow. I've got to make some birdies and keep it going."
Phil has made a career out of saying all the right things, minus the occasional California tax situation, and he's right again here.
The near-certain inevitability of Phil is simple math. If Phil shoots a mere two under par Sunday — and that would be four shots worse than anything he's done so far — Snedeker will need a 63 to tie him, while Padraig Harrington and Ryan Moore, who are tied for third, would need to shoot 61.
With Sunday pin positions and final-round pressure, those are lofty scores. But since Phil shot 60 on Thursday and just barely missed his last two 20-footers, you have to concede that anything's possible, just like that old PGA Tour slogan used to say.
Let's say Phil shoots four under par. Now Snedeker needs 61 and Harrington and Moore need 59s. Good luck, fellas.
It would be pretty dumb to bet against Phil, who's got a history of crushing the field when he gets a big lead. He loves to play with confidence, he loves to rack up birdies, and — this is a very good thing — he loves to show off. Nobody puts on a better show in golf than Phil, although Tiger is also a master thespian.
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Phil won in Atlanta in 2006 the week before the Masters by 13 shots in the Bell South Classic. Although that week, it seemed like a hundred strokes.
It would be equally silly to dismiss Snedeker. His putter ranks among the most feared weapons on tour. Plus, I like his attitude. He said he's going to go out there Sunday and be as aggressive as possible.
"I'm not playing for second," he said. "I've already got one of those this year."
Savvy 42-year-old veteran that he is, Mickelson is well aware of Snedeker's presence. It'll be go low or go home on a course that, with perfect conditions for three straight days and likely a fourth, may yield the lowest scores anyone will shoot on tour the rest of the year.
"There are a lot of birdie opportunities, especially the way I have been driving the ball," Mickelson said. "By putting the ball in play, it gives me opportunities to get aggressive at these pins even when they're tucked. If I continue to do that, I will have some good chances.
"I know how good Snedeker is and how hot he can get with a putter. He can make birdie from just about anywhere. He's going to make a run tomorrow. Hopefully, I will be able to keep pace. That's the first order of business."
Phil is making a case this week that he's not going away at 42, and for those who think the conversation in golf is limited to Tiger and Rory McIlroy, think again. Snedeker is making the case, a little more quietly, that he may be on the verge of turning into "The Next Great American" player. Dustin Johnson is in that category. So is U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson and former PGA champ Keegan Bradley. None of them putt like Snedeker, though.
The only thing certain about the Phoenix Open finale is that after it's over, we'll all still be talking about Phil. If he wins, his legend simply keeps growing. If he doesn't win, well, we'll be deconstructing how in the world he possibly could've lost it.
It's Phil's World this week, one way or another. That's never a bad thing.