Thursday morning was a great moment for me. My day off, and Phil Mickelson v. Tiger Woods in the first two rounds of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, one of Phil's favorite courses and one on which he played often as a kid. What would be more poetic than the golfer who plays (and acts) more like a regular hacker winning his first U.S. Open on a course with $42 greens fees?
Alas, it was not to be. In fact, it was downright disheartening, from the failed no-driver experiment to the hole that summed up the weekend, the 13th on Saturday, where Lefty pushed a tee shot, hacked out, laid up, and sent four wedges toward the hole before three-putting for a 9 that guaranteed he was out of the running.
Actually, this has been a fun tournament to watch, and it's not over yet. Tiger Woods has been heroic, coming back from knee surgery and gutting out an incredibly gritty performance to force a playoff tomorrow morning. Rocco Mediate, 45 and the 158th ranked player in the world, is having a lot of fun chasing his first major championship, even if it means he'll have to beat Tiger in an 18 hole playoff tomorrow. Others have played well (bravo, Lee Westwood!) and not-so-well (what the hell happened to Vijay Singh and Ernie Els? When was the last major where either of them mattered?). But those of us who are dedicated Phil Phanatics will have to wait for that elusive U.S. Open title.
But there's hope, you know. The British Open is coming up next month, and even though it's generally the tournament least well-suited to Phil's game, you never know when Brilliant Phil is going to make an appearance. And next year's U.S. Open? Bethphage Black, where Phil almost got the major monkey off his back in 2002, riding a wave of supporters the whole weekend before finishing second to Tiger in the end.
Phil is looking good these days, too - the hefty lefty is decidedly less hefty. His butt seems to have fallen right off, actually. Perhaps the errant tee shots are a result of quicker rotation due to less bulk to rotate? Whatever it is, the new look is great, Phil - keep it up.
Some might say that backing Phil is a losing proposition. Rick Reilly described watching Phil play as "watching a drunk chase a balloon on a cliff's edge." But here's the thing: those of us who love the guy love him for more than the game - we love him for the way he remembers, "Hey, I get to play golf for a living." He signs autographs. He gives time to charities. He loves his family. Want a picture of sweetness? Go to youtube and find coverage from the 2004 Masters, and wait for the final shot, with Phil holding one of his curly-haired daughters and telling her, "Daddy won!" THAT is what we love, and that is why it's tough to see things go south in a hurry like they sometimes do for our man Phil.