That's not the only reason to be bullish on Phil. At 42, he's slowly inching away from his go-for-broke mentality and replacing it with a sort of conservative aggression. When he shot that first-round 60, he was dying to post in the 50s—the only time he has done so was at the 2004 Grand Slam of Golf, when he shot 59—but on the final two holes he didn't go for broke on his approach, hitting wedge shots he made sure to keep below the hole. Smart plays. The last birdie putt, for 59, lipped out so forcibly that a stunned Bones slumped in disbelief to his knees, then to his elbows.
Another reason to stand behind Phil is his iron play. Wild drives, occasionally questionable decisions and erratic putting (he's using a modified claw grip now and rolling it great, by the way) have overshadowed the fact that other than a prime-time Tiger, nobody stacks more approach shots closer to the hole than Phil. In Scottsdale he led the field in greens in regulation and proximity to the pin.
Mickelson doesn't often rank so high in greens or fairways hit, but no matter how poor his numbers are, he's usually among the top 15 in birdies per round, often the top five. This is a fact: Phil is one of the best iron players from the rough. The easy punch line is, He should be; he gets enough practice. Golf is about scoring, and Phil is a great scorer because his iron play combines with a great short game and deadly mid-range putting. Simply put, he knows how to get the ball in the hole. Tiger is his only peer in that class.
Mickelson's challenges these days are his psoriatic arthritis, which he doesn't discuss so we have no idea how much it affects him, and the fact that his type of genius bores easily. It's also worth noting that in the last 15 years, Darren Clarke (42, at the 2011 British Open) and Ernie Els (42, at the '12 British) are the only players who have won a major at Mickelson's age or older. But playing for history lights Phil's fire, as does squaring off with his career rival, Tiger. And whether you're playing Candyland, H-O-R-S-E or a $100 Nassau, he lives to beat you.
"He's so freakin' competitive," Mackay said. "You can never question how much he wants to win a golf tournament at age 42. Never."
This is a good time to be Phil. It may be about to get even better.