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Golf's Greatest Party, better known as the Waste Management Phoenix Open, is an annual exercise in Things You've Never Seen Before.
There was a bevy of new entries last week at TPC Scottsdale, most of them taking place at the par-3 16th, golf's rowdiest hole. Urged on by the always vocal gallery, caddie races sprouted up, as loopers sprinted from tee to green—most with staff bags still slung over their shoulders. Brent Henley lost a heated race to his brother Kip, after Brent stumbled and did a flip near the green, looking like laundry in a dryer.
By Sunday the caddie races had become passé. That's when "Gangnam Style" made its golf debut. James Hahn, a South Korean--born American, made a birdie putt at the 16th and did his best hoss-ridin', banjo-steppin' Gangnam impression. Hunter Mahan borrowed from 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and kissed his biceps after a successful putt. And Irishman Padraig Harrington played his tee shot to 16 in the third round, then kicked a few Super Bowl souvenir footballs into the stands.
Nothing, however, could top what happened at the 10th tee during the second round on Friday. Phil Mickelson kissed his driver. "Yes," he sheepishly admitted later, "I gave it a little peck." That Phil is having a love affair with his driver, the club that has tormented him throughout his career, is Man Bites Dog stuff. See Winged Foot, 2006 U.S. Open, and this five-word phrase for details: "I am such an idiot."
This is no joke, but it is Philarious. The proof is in the scores. All Phil did last week was lip-out a putt for 59 in the opening round, miss the PGA Tour's alltime 54-hole scoring record by one (189), shoot 28 under par for 72 holes and lead from wire to wire for his 41st PGA Tour victory. Poor Brandt Snedeker. It was the wrong week to be 24 under. All it got him was his second runner-up finish in two weeks.
Just when we were ready to pack him up and ship him off to be on display at the World Golf Hall of Fame, just when we were ready to cede the stage to Rory and Tiger, Phil suddenly looks more formidable than at any other time in his career. Your attention, please: Mickelson is going to win more major championships. (Note the plural.)
Why? "Are you kidding me?" asked caddie Jim (Bones) Mackay. "The driver. He's driving it like a machine!"
Two days before the start of the tournament Mickelson received a new Callaway RAZR Fit Xtreme driver, and by Thursday he was pounding it so long and straight that he came within two near misses on the last two holes from shooting 58. Mickelson has always struggled to control his driver because his high clubhead speed imparts tremendous spin on the ball. He would compensate by using a less-lofted model and tilting his swing plane so that he was swinging up at the ball. The new driver imparts much less spin, allowing Phil to use more loft (much easier to hit) and make his iron swing instead of having to tilt his body.
"Now you're seeing me extend my driver swing down the target line," Mickelson said. "It could really be a revolutionary club for me. The strength of my game is my iron play. If I can drive it like this as easily as I have, I feel like it's going to make a monumental difference in my game. I could potentially play some of the best golf I have ever played."
Mickelson, a four-time major champion, has been a factor in many of golf's big four events over the last decade, even though he has finished better than 160th in driving accuracy only once. Imagine a world in which Mickelson (or Woods, for that matter) is an efficient driver or, at the very least, his wildest shots have a much smaller dispersion.