It was Phil's turn at the top as he became the headliner for four full days at TPC Scottsdale.
No. 1 - Phil still has it -- It was not a pretty start to the season for Phil Mickelson, who was out of contention at the Humana Challenge and Torrey Pines, and took heat for his comments on Calfiornia's tax laws. But in an instant, Phil flipped the early-season narrative when he started Thursday's opening round with 10 birdies in his first 13 holes. The way he was playing, it looked like he would definitely break 60, and probably even fire 58.
The bid for breaking 60 fell short, of course, but only in the most Mickelson of ways that added to the drama and provided an early highlight of a stroke this season. Phil fell off a bit after Augusta last year, and the battles between Rory and Tiger took center stage -- carrying over to this year with McIlroy's new Nike deal and Tiger's big win last week. The four-day stretch at TPC Scottsdale immediately shoots Mickelson back into the conversation, not only because of the win but because of the manner in which he dominated, starting with the memorable opening round.
Mickelson turns 43 in June, and people were already starting to question whether he was still among the top players in the world. His starpower will always be there but this week his play combined with the flare for yet another West Coast swing victory. He indicated that a new Callaway driver that he hit well this week has changed his game and will change the year for him. Phil's in contention at Augusta on the first tee on Thursday, but using TPC Scottsdale to wash away the drama of the past two weeks certainly resets the course heading into The Masters.
No. 2 - Snedeker's second -- For the second week in a row, Brandt Snedeker came in second place. Snedeker has been the most consistent player through the first month of the season, climbing to the first page of the leaderboard almost every day in his four starts. But once again, his steady week was not enough to close a huge final round gap against the two biggest stars in the game.
The defending FedExCup champ is gunning for his first major this year and given the first month, he'll almost certainly be in contention again for at least one. The 2012 season could only be considered a "breakout" for Snedeker, who was previously best known for breaking down at a press conference after losing The Masters. But that success from last year has clearly continued this season and he's cemented his status as one of the top ten players in the world. And right now, he's probably playing better golf than anyone else on the planet.
No. 3 - Piercy's big month -- Outside of Snedeker, Scott Piercy has probably played the most consistent golf through the season's first month. He capped his strong start with a round of 61 on Sunday at TPC Scottsdale and the 10-under round pushed him into a solo third finish. Piercy struggled last week, but aside from the hiccup in La Jolla, he's been at the top of almost every leaderboard so far. The 34-year old has a win in each of the past two years, and three top 15 finishes in his first four events put him at the top of the list for an early season win this year.
No. 4 - Scottsdale attendance -- The Phoenix Open sets the standard for crowd enthusiasm and engagement. When it comes to the gallery, the stop at TPC Scottsdale is the model for Tim Finchem and the envy of almost every other event. There doesn't need to be the rowdiness of the 16th every week, but the amount of fans that pack into TPC Scottsdale for all four days have set the mark on a yearly basis for several seasons. That continued on Saturday, when almost 180,000 people showed up to set the new single day record for the PGA Tour.
No. 5 - Hahn's dance -- Golf's not considered cool, and neither is Gangnam Style anymore (further evidenced by Psy's pistachio commercial Sunday night). But that didn't stop James Hahn from dancing off the rowdy 16th green after he drained a birdie putt. The hole provides one of the best atmospheres all season, and I definitely appreciate Hahn's non-traditional celebration. It just could have been a little bit more original.
No. 6 - Paddy entertains the crowd -- Another golfer who got into it with the crowd this weekend was Irishman Padraig Harrington, who started kicking footballs into the stands at the par-3 16th. Harrington indicated that he had never kicked a football, but the results were surprisingly satisfactory. In a week full of attempts to play to the crowd, this was probably the best.
No. 7 - Slow play & the USGA -- The USGA's governing body held its annual meeting this weekend in San Diego, and two of the bigger topics discussed were pace of play and bifurcation. The USGA has been relatively silent on the matter of slow rounds, but as the appointed caretakers of the golf, it sounds like they're ready to tackle the issue with full force. Ron Sirak of Golf World was in attendance and relayed that president Glen Nager called slow pace of play "one of the most significant threats to the game's health" and that the concern has only grown in the past year. It's easy to identify the problem but a little harder to come up with a solution, as the pros are almost never penalized for their glacial pace. The tee-it-forward campaign and promoting nine-hole golf are a few initiatives, but the issue must first be addressed at the professional level.
No. 8 - Suspending Singh -- Before Phil stole the show in Phoenix the biggest story of the week at TPC Scottsdale centered around Vijay Singh's use of deer antler extract spray, which contains a banned substance. There were plenty of opinions to be had on the controversy, and now the subject of punishment is first and foremost. Tim Rosaforte, who was with some of the biggest legends in golf this weekend, said that it was almost a unanimous in the locker room that Singh should be suspended in some form. It's likely that the PGA Tour will be forced to act, and also re-emphasize their banned substance policies. Paul Azinger, however, rightly questions whether all these regulations are appropriately tailored towards golfers.
No. 9 - More Morning Drive -- Monday marked the launch of the redesigned Morning Drive on Golf Channel, which has taken off since it came on the air in early 2011. The show features an expanding group of regular contributors, including Ahmad Rashad, former Golf Digest travel expert Matt Ginella, and GC queen bee Kelly Tilghman. The biggest change, however, is that the show will now run a full seven days a week on what is the unquestioned kingpin in golf media.