Less than a week after Tiger Woods debuted on the 2013 PGA Tour with a dominating win at Torrey Pines, Phil Mickelson made an early-season statement of his own with a wire-to-wire win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. It was dominating performance full of highlights and birdie after birdie, started by the cruel near-miss round of 59 on Thursday. After a listless tournament last week in his hometown of San Diego, the Arizona State product cruised for four days in front of another set of fans who have followed him for more than two decades.
The two-week stretch of Woods-Mickelson victories certainly has to have PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem happy as the season really swings into gear on the West Coast. It's a portion of the season where Mickelson has traditionally succeeded. This year's WM Phoenix Open was Mickelson's 41st career win, and the majority of those have come in the early portion of the season on the West Coast and before The Masters in April.
Mickelson started Sunday with a six-shot lead, a margin that was not insurmountable given the low rounds fired at TPC Scottsdale all week. Phil had a shot to set a new 72-hole PGA Tour record with a round of 64 or better, but that fell out of reach relatively early and he finished with just five birdies in his final round. But the lead was so large that Brandt Snedeker could never get closer than three shots, and Mickelson held him off on the back side after he cut the lead in half at the turn.
Sunday's highlight will be the final putt to win it, but the most memorable moment from the victory will be Thursday's incredible round. Mickelson's 10 birdies in his first 13 holes put the golf world on "59 watch" and created legitimate speculation that he could card the first-ever 58 in PGA Tour history. Of course, that all ended in the most heartbreaking and "Phil" way when his final putt went around the lip before hopping out.
But Phil didn't stop there after that crushing near-miss, backing up the round of 60 with rounds of 65 and 64. Yesterday's dart at the infamous 16th hole nearly went in for an ace, whipping the crowd into a frenzy and adding to the dominating week. He started the week with a new Callaway driver in the bag and with what he called an "emergency session" with swing coach Butch Harmon. The driver apparently did the trick for Mickelson, who repeatedly talked about how it cut down on his misses left -- where there's plenty of water trouble at TPC Scottsdale.
It's impossible to project what this means for the rest of the season for Mickelson. He picks up a win on the West Coast swing almost every year. In 2012, he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in blowout fashion, but that would be his only win of the year and he was rarely in contention after Augusta.
This was a win out of nowhere, however, as Mickelson could not break 70 last week in his backyard at Torrey Pines and was lackluster through four rounds at the Humana Challenge. Those two underwhelming weeks to start the season, along with the drama surrounding his tax comments, prompted more questions about Phil's game and his ability to contend this year. It didn't take long for things to turn, however, and now Mickelson has a win for the 20th straight year -- a streak only exceeded by Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus. Tiger may have been on the sidelines, but there really was no other storyline this week as soon as Phil opened Thursday with four straight birdies.
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