PGA Tour Confidential: Phil Mickelson wins Waste Management Phoenix Open

February 4, 2013

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: With Phil Mickelson's super performance in Phoenix he seemed determined to remind everyone that his expertise is in golf, not public policy. Phil's talent is unquestionable, but his motivation and focus come and go. Was this just a one-off or is Phil now on his way to a big year?

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: The new driver has re-energized Phil. We'll look back at the win in Phoenix as the start of something big.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: You can never count Phil in — or out — of anything. He's unpredictable. But this new driver looks more like a game-changer for him than a one-week blip. The Masters and a big course like the PGA Championship at Oak Hill are tailor-made for him if he's getting off the tee better. Big year for Phil, especially since I wasn't expecting it.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Phil's now won 41 times on Tour, but you'd be hard-pressed to find as complete a victory as this one. Everything was clicking. He could be in for a great year, but there will probably be more bumps along the way, because after all, he's Phil. Ride the wave.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Does this mean Phil's going to be a challenger for No. 1? No, he'll never be that consistent. But this does mean he's trending toward another run at a green jacket, and that's all that matters.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: This isn't coming out of nowhere. He played well in the FedEx Cup events last year and looked sharp at the Ryder Cup. No matter what the odds-makers say, the smart money will be on Mickelson at Augusta.

Shipnuck: After watching Keegan Bradley's super-straight driving at the Ryder Cup, Phil seemed to have found religion, vowing he'd stop swinging for the fences and play more from the fairway. If his tremendous ball control in Phoenix is indeed the manifestation of a more refined style of play than I think this could be the start of something big. With his iron game and play from 125 yards and in, he'll be very tough to beat playing consistently from the short grass.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: The only thing Phil's brilliant play tells us is that he is far from finished as a tour star. We've seen this before — weeks of bland play followed by a streak that makes the golf gods yelp. Next week, who knows? But he's a joy to watch, a real gift to golf fans.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Phil will contend at the Masters. If he wins, he may go radio silent for the rest of year. If he loses, he may go radio silent for rest of the year.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I don't think we can say he's headed for a monster year, or we'd make the same mistake we made after he won Pebble last year. I think that inconsistency is here to stay. But I agree that he'll be a force at Augusta, every year for the next 10 or so.

Godich: 10? Seriously?

Morfit: Oh, yeah — Augusta will be the last place where he's still able to contend.

Garrity: I can see it, assuming Phil's arthritis doesn't kick in. He's still got a full shoulder turn, there's no sign that he's starting to lose distance, and he's got the great short game. Plus he's more comfortable at Augusta National than he is at home with his accountant.

Bamberger: I agree. Jack had a similar build and a similar big swing and he played Augusta beautifully at age 56.

Godich: But for a guy battling arthritis, contending at Augusta at 52 seems to be a pretty big ask.

Stephanie Wei, Forty-one wins. Think about it. That's pretty incredible and over a period overlapping with Tiger in his heyday. Who knows with Phil? This win reminds me of last year at Pebble. He looked confident and sharp that week and especially that Sunday, playing with Tiger. As impressive and dominant he was in Phoenix, Phil is not a young chap anymore. Can't see him maintaining this pace.

Godich: Phil would gladly slip on another green jacket, but I think the prize he covets most now is the U.S. Open.

Shipnuck: I think Merion is a great opportunity for Phil. Off the tee he can hit 3-irons and 3-woods all day and let the rest of his game carry him.

Morfit: That'd be the story of the year, especially since I don't immediately think Phil when I think Merion.

Bamberger: Merion would be an amazing, and unlikely, place for Phil to finally get his U.S. Open. He likes the big parks.

Van Sickle: Phil's iron play and great putting from mid-range — the 10-to 20-foot range — make him a U.S. Open contender if he can avoid big numbers.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Phil heading for a big year?

Shipnuck: Phil's bid for a 59 on Thursday ended cruelly when his putt horseshoed out of the hole. What are golf's most brutal lip-outs? I'll vote for Greg Norman having it happen on back-to-back hole in his playoff loss vs. Zinger at the '93 PGA Championship. You?

Garrity: Fred Couples had a couple of final-round lip-outs at the Shoal Creek PGA in 1990.

Bamberger: Joe Daley, 2000, Q-school. Four-feet. Nothing but net and POPPED OUT! He missed by a shot. But he did win on the senior tour last year.

Godich: Tiger's lip-out on the last hole in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, when it looked like he was going to shoot 62. Phil's putt looked like a carbon copy of that one.

Van Sickle: Nick Price at the 1986 Masters, obviously, when the ghost of Bobby Jones reached up with his hand and swatted Nick's putt for 62 out of the hole and said, "Enough!"

Ritter: Not sure it was the most brutal lip-out ever, but Sergio's 10-footer on 18 to win the '07 British at Carnoustie immediately springs to mind. His whole career probably plays out differently if that putt drops. And by "career", I'm referring to both his golf and his soccer.

Morfit: That was far from a horrible horseshoe, but Garcia's quote after the fact, about the golf gods being against him, was great.

Walker: Hard to argue with anything involving the Golf God's favorite victim Greg Norman, but I literally can't watch the video of I.K. Kim's 10-inch putt to win lipping out at last year's Nabisco Championship.

Shipnuck: And don't forget Scott Hoch's 2-footer in his playoff loss to Nick Faldo at the 1989 Masters. That's a horror show.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What's the cruelest lip-out of all-time?

Shipnuck: Brandt Snedeker, the $11 million man, had his third top-3 of the year in Phoenix. If we conceded that Tiger Woods is the best American golfer, who's number two? Phil is dangerous at any given moment but he's not a week-in and week-out force. I think I'm forced to say Sneds. Any dissenting views?

Morfit: Depends if Mickelson's feeling good that particular week. He obviously isn't feeling too bad now. Can't wait to see what he does at Pebble. Can you imagine the buzz if both he and Tiger start to threaten Rory? Oh, my. (A guy can hope.)

Godich: For now, I am sticking with Jason Dufner. Unlike Snedeker, he backed up a breakout year with a rock-solid showing at the Ryder Cup. But if Sneds keeps this up — and collects a victory, to boot — I will change my thinking.

Garrity: I won't argue with you about the steadily improving Snedeker, but I think Keegan Bradley has that je ne sais quoi that marks him as a future Hall of Famer.

Van Sickle: I might've leaned toward Keegan but the looming anchored-putting ban could change that, we don't know. Snedeker and Dufner look promising, but high finishes aren't the same as winning. Right now, this minute, I'll go with the 41 wins and Phil.

Shipnuck: I'm a huge Bradley fan — I think two years from now, and five years from now, and 10 years from now he's the guy. But right now he seems to want it almost too much and gets in his own way sometimes. Sneds makes it look too easy.

Morfit: Keegan is at his best when the pressure is at its highest, but it's unclear how or if he's going to be able to get as zeroed in for regular stroke-play events. A bit like Poulter.

Reiterman: No argument here. Our colleague Gary Van Sickle pointed out a telling quote from Sneds on Saturday. When asked about his chances on Sunday, Snedeker said, "I'm not playing for second. I've already got one of those this year."

Walker: Three top threes is not enough to displace Mickelson as the No. 2 American golfer. Consistency is overrated. Here's what Padraig Harrington said about it earlier this week: "As much as we spend all our time trying to be consistent, it's the inconsistent wins that are probably the most important thing."

Wei: Ah, wise Padraig. I guess that's true if you haven't been consistent in a while, but I see what he's saying. People don't really remember consistency or the player that finishes in the top 5 or even second — golfers are defined by their major wins.

Morfit: Paddy is the best quote in the game. A real beauty.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Is Snedeker currently the second-best American in golf? If not, who is?

Shipnuck: Off the course, the big story last week was an SI report that cited Vijay Singh's use of a PED that is banned by the PGA Tour. Singh admitted he used deer antler spray but pleaded ignorance that it was outlawed. Tour regulations call for a one-year suspension for Singh's infraction but do allow for commissioner Tim Finchem to abridge the penalty as he sees fit. Should Finchem cut the aging Hall of Famer some slack or should Vijay be suspended for a year? I say send him to the gallows.

Godich: If the rule is there, it needs to be enforced. If Vijay is looking for a loophole, he should talk to Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun.

Morfit: A year seems long to me. I'd vote for six months, which would send a message and give Vijay a well-earned vacation.

Bamberger: Absolutely, he needs to be suspended. He had to know. If he didn't, he should have. Either way, the rules are clear. I have come to like Vijay, but he's looking for every edge he can get and now we know that means at least one illegal one. He can't be the only one.

Walker: Vijay should get a pass here. Deer antler is pretty common in Eastern medicine. Since it occurs naturally, it's not fair to expect Singh to realize that the deer antler spray would contain a banned substance.

Garrity: I'm more forgiving, but maybe that's because deer antler spray sounds so silly. Vijay is the gullible victim of a snake-oil salesman. Looking like a fool is punishment enough.

Morfit: His ex-trainer Joey Diovisalvi told me there's no way Vijay knew he was breaking the rule, which is probably true, but I'm not sure "ignorance is innocence," as Diovisalvi added.

Wei: The Tour made a special effort to educate its players about this. It's Singh's job to know the rules, isn't it? With compulsory drug testing on Tour, I'd double-check everything I'm putting into my body. I say he should be suspended for a quarter of the season at the very least.

Godich: Deer antler spray. Think about it. You're going to play around with something like that without investigating it? Pardon the pun, but that's a little hard for me to swallow.

Van Sickle: Vijay's sentence depends upon how you view it, as I wrote earlier in the week when the story broke. If you consider that Vijay used a banned substance, you probably want a harsh penalty. If you consider that Vijay used deer antler spray (from a guy who is clearly a goofball), you probably think it's laughable that anyone believes it helped him. I'm in the latter group. I let him off with a slap on the wrist. Deer antler spray? C'mon.

Garrity: I've got it! Finchem can sentence Vijay to a year of one-on-one interviews with golf writers.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: Should Singh be suspended for using the spray? If so, for how long?

Shipnuck: The USGA just had its annual meeting in San Diego. Usually, no one cares, but these are turbulent times. The big takeaway was a new pace-of-play initiative and that Glen Nager was re-elected as president. Along with executive director Mike Davis this has become an activist administration. What do you think of the USGA's current stewardship of the game?

Godich: I know they are walking a tightrope, but the stewards of the game could've taken a stronger stand on the anchoring issue — one way or the other. Throwing out a 2016 date (and a date in the middle of the PGA Tour season, no less) reeks of indecisiveness.

Reiterman: All I know is the U.S. Open got a whole lot more interesting when Davis took over. And I love that they're not shying away from the big issues facing the game. Loved to hear that they're trying to do something about slow play!

Godich: Remind me how long have we been hearing about the slow-pace issue?

Shipnuck: I like that Davis has said it's better for the USGA to make mistakes — I'm thinking of the grooves rule here — than to do nothing at all.

Godich: Maybe so, but when you keep making mistakes, it becomes more difficult to take you seriously.

Bamberger: I think they're doing the right thing but going about it the wrong way. They are in a war of public opinion but acting like they are sitting on a throne. They need Wieden-Kennedy.

Garrity: Nager's positions on the issues are well-reasoned, and he is articulate in expressing them. But I don't think he sees the contradictions in trying to speed up play while insisting that the game must not be made "easier."

Walker: The USGA has been doing a great job. Bringing the Open back to Merion is a perfect example of how they are both daring and respectful of the game's history. Hosting the Men's and Women's Opens back to back next year at Pinehurst is another one.

Shipnuck: I'm just glad the USGA isn't sitting on the sidelines anymore. Every other constituency has a selfish stake — these guys truly care about the game and protecting it. I believe in Davis and Nager and hope they keep going forward.

Van Sickle: I'll repeat what I wrote in my anti-ban diatribe last year: The USGA banning anchoring is like Nero handing out jaywalking tickets while Rome burns. They aren't addressing the issues that matter. Anchored putting isn't a traditional stroke? It's been used for 30 years. I'd call that a tradition.

Bamberger: In the first two rounds of the '50 Open, people were complaining about the horrid pace (five hours) and nobody did anything about it. But they talked about it. You have to learn to play at a proper pace. Our whole country needs to learn how to do it.

Van Sickle:I at least respect that with the slow-play issue, the USGA is sort of addressing one of golf's Big Three ailments: the game is too difficult, it takes too long to play and it costs too much. But they're gonna have to do better than this.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below: What's your take on the USGA's recent work?