Verdi: Mickelson's magic adds more drama at Crooked Stick

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September 08, 2012
Bob Verdi, PGATOUR.COM

CARMEL, Ind. -- Oakland. Were it not for the ongoing FedExCup Playoffs, that's where Phil Mickelson would be headed this weekend.

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"I might also be home in San Diego keeping an eye on the Padres," he said, referring to the baseball team in which he recently invested. "But the Chargers have a Monday night opener in Oakland, and I'd wind up there for sure. Wouldn't be spending much time practicing."

Instead, Mickelson will enter Sunday's final round of the BMW Championship tied at the top with Vijay Singh on a leaderboard that is tantamount to a "Who's Who" of men's golf. When PGA TOUR authorities conceived of a meaningful postseason five years ago, skepticism ensued. But they really couldn't ask for more than what beckons at Crooked Stick.

"That's why this has been so great," continued Mickelson, who amassed 10 birdies toward Saturday's 64. "Normally, guys would shut it down after the PGA Championship. But now, the best players in the world are competing four additional times. With the Ryder Cup coming up, I might be working on my game a bit. But that's two weeks off, and there's nothing that keeps you sharp better than competition."

Mickelson, ever the analyst, theorizes that the Playoffs have better prepared American golfers for team competitions. Indeed, since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007, the United States has claimed three Presidents Cups and one Ryder Cup, losing only the latter in 2010. September, after all, can be more about fishing and Sunday will offer a worthy alternative to fans who dig football every bit as much as Mickelson.

Not since John Daly's triumph at the 1991 PGA Championship has Crooked Stick provided such possibilities for drama, and even then, it was all about one man. John Daly. Sunday's agenda is a crowd from central casting. Singh and Mickelson will be in the final twosome, preceded by Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, each one behind at 15-under 201. Before them: Adam Scott and Robert Garrigus; Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods; Zach Johnson and Graeme McDowell. They are just four back, and McDowell is there only because he called a two-stroke penalty on himself after his club barely touched a leaf on a bunker blast. That's golf, a clean game even when there's mud on the ball. That's why spectators arrived in waves Saturday, as if to emulate pounding overnight rains that rendered Crooked Stick defenseless, save for soggy rough, and flooded parking lots.

"You drive to the course and you see people walking miles to get here," noted Mickelson. "The support here really has been impressive."

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Playoffs update
ROUND 3 MOVEMENT: Vijay Singh and Robert Garrigus are in line to move into the top 30. Update

Only if Daly himself somehow parachuted onto the first tee could Sunday portend greater theater, but Big John had his day at Crooked Stick. He was a 25-year-old untested unknown hanging out at home in Dardanelle, Ark., when he got a call suggesting he drive here because he had climbed from ninth to first alternate at the 1991 PGA Championship. That was on a Wednesday, and Daly began his journey of 700 miles or so, still uncertain whether he was in or out of the season's final major.

By Thursday, Daly was in. Nick Price withdrew to be with wife Sue for the birth of the couple's first child. Daly had shown some promise and made some money during the summer, but nobody paid much attention to a journeyman who had missed 11 of 23 cuts. Daly was fortunate to take on Price's afternoon tee time; also, Big John inherited Price's caddie, Jeff "Squeaky" Medlin, one of the best. Daly had not seen Crooked Stick, let alone played a practice round. But Medlin was meticulous about his job.

"But it was difficult to club John, because I'd never seen a guy hit the ball like he hits it," Medlin said of Daly, who shot 69, to land two strokes shy of first round leaders Kenny Knox and Ian Woosnam. When Daly posted a 67 to seize the 36-hole advantage, he shed his anonymity � forever, as it turned out. After Saturday's 69, he was up by three and had virtually taken over Crooked Stick with his game and his demeanor.

"Kill It!" Those were the words frequently uttered by Medlin, and Daly gladly obliged, reducing a dogleg such as No. 14 to driver-wedge while peers required middle irons. An instant celebrity, Daly was invited that evening to attend an Indianapolis Colts' exhibition game. He was introduced at the 50-yard line and received the royal treatment "as though I had already won." Robert Irsay, the Colts' owner, offered to suit Daly up and have him attempt a field goal, but Big John declined.

Mickelson interview

Phil Mickelson talks about his 10-birdie third round at the BMW Championship.

On Sunday, Daly drew thousands to view a Cinderella story. He won with at 12-under 276. As he waddled up the 18th fairway, Daly waved to fans who waved back. He had unveiled his "grip it and rip it" style, to such an extent that his soft hands and magnificent short game were overlooked. The myth is that Daly took it past parallel and bludgeoned Crooked Stick to submission; the truth is that he sank many an important putt.

Big John also showed another side that week. On Thursday, a violent storm produced lighting that killed Tom Weaver, 39, as he ran for his car. When Daly learned of the tragedy and the two daughters left behind � Emily, 12, and Karen, 8 � he said he felt personally responsible. Upon accepting his $230,000 winner's check, Big John immediately designated $30,000 for the girls' college educations.

Daly shunned publicity about his largesse and refrained from reaching out to the family lest he stir sad memories. But Dee, Weaver's widow, and her second husband, Steve, contacted Daly 15 years later to inform him of the girls' progress. And diplomas. Soon after, they met for the first time. "A lot of people make promises, but not everybody comes through like John," said Dee. "He wasn't a rich man when he won. He was just starting out. But his gesture was from the heart."

John Daly has his demons, but in 1991, he proved he is also a compulsive giver.

Bob Verdi is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.

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