Monday Backspin: Mickelson's 41st win; closer look at golf's elusive number

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February 04, 2013
Brian Wacker,

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- What’s the difference between shooting 59 and 60?

 

A “chasm,” as Paul Goydos put it.

Goydos should know. He’s one of only five players to do it in a PGA TOUR event. Phil Mickelson nearly became the sixth before his ball horseshoed out of the cup on his final hole of the opening round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

There’s a lot to get to in Mickelson’s 41st career victory on TOUR, but his near-historic round deserves a closer look, which I’ll give you with an assist from Goydos and his longtime caddie Chris Mazziotti.

First, why haven’t there been more 59s shot?

The simple answer is it’s hard to do, which explains why only five of them have been recorded, compared to the 27 rounds of 60 that have been shot. Dig a little deeper, though, and there’s more to it than that. A lot has to go your way, for one.

Little details stick out to Goydos as he remembered the day he shot 59 in the opening round of the 2010 John Deere Classic.

On the fifth hole at TPC Deere Run, Goydos hit his tee shot into the right rough. But he had a good lie. The grooves rule had also recently gone into effect and Goydos has no doubt he wouldn’t have been able to hit the flier he did over the trees and onto the green with his old V-shaped grooves, which produced more spin.  

On the 17th hole, with Goydos at this point well aware of a potential 59, Cliff Kresge hit his approach shot 4 inches behind Goydos’. As Kresge hit his putt, Goydos remembers thinking to himself, “That broke more than I thought.”

“If he doesn’t putt first, I don’t make mine,” Goydos said. “Those little things turn 61 into 59.”

Mazziotti disagrees -- “I don’t care who putted first, he was making it,” he said of Goydos, who had a hot putter most of the day despite coming into the week off two straight missed cuts and five consecutive rounds in the 70s.

Take nothing away from Goydos, or the other four players who have shot 59, but no player at the top of the game, save for David Duval in 1999, has done what these five have, despite having won more or set more records.

One reason why: Players like Mickelson typically play a lot of their golf on very difficult golf courses.

Asked if he’s surprised that more players haven’t shot 59, however, and Goydos said yes, mostly because of the pristine conditions courses are in these days. Mazziotti, on the other hand, isn’t as surprised.

“There are so many variables,” he said. “So many things come into play.”

Like putts that lip out.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

"It’s a little bit like a baseball pitcher when he has a no-hitter going. I was just handing him the putter and getting away from him." -- Mickelson’s caddie Jim Mackay describing their round together during Mickelson’s run at a 59.

"I don't mind bringing it up. I don't mind even saying something, but we didn't really bring it up. I'm not superstitious that way. I don't mind talking about it, because I was sure thinking it." -- Mickelson with his take on the superstition of not discussing the possibility of a 59.

TWEETS OF THE WEEK

@RickieFowlerPGA: The year of delays continues...wind/Kapalua, fog/Torrey, frost/Scottsdale, power/Super Bowl #oops -- Rickie Fowler on the strange power outage in the middle of Sunday's Super Bowl

@david59duval: I wonder if I could get to the 20 by the time Colin gets to the 40. -- David Duval, watching speedy 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick against the Ravens.

THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. All five times Phil Mickelson has shot 62 or better in a TOUR event, he’s gone on to win. That might sound like a “well, duh” statement, but it’s not often that a player keeps it going the way Mickelson did last week at TPC Scottsdale. The bigger point is that once Mickelson gets hot, he stays hot. He’s also an incredibly good front-runner.

2. The key moment for Mickelson on Sunday in terms of keeping momentum going was the 13th hole, where he made the first of three birdies over his final six holes to keep his distance from Brandt Snedeker. “I ended up picking up a shot there where all I was trying to do was make birdie so I didn't lose one.” Mickelson said. For the week, Mickelson played the final four holes at TPC Scottsdale in a combined 10 under. Snedeker, meanwhile, played them in 6 under.

3. Speaking of Snedeker, who I was bullish on coming into the year, he’s now shot in the 60s in 12 of his 15 rounds this season with two runner-up finishes and a third in three of his four starts. Going back to last year’s Wyndham Championship, 29 of his 33 rounds have been under par and he has five top-3 finishes in his last eight starts. “I feel like I'm running into Hall-of-Famers every week,” joked Snedeker, who finished second to Mickelson and Tiger Woods each of the last two weeks. “I had one bad round last week. This week I didn't have a bad round. Phil just played unbelievable. You want to win those, and hopefully I will soon.”

4. Stat of the Week I: Mickelson now has at least one win in each of his the last 10 years, the longest active streak on TOUR. It also marks the 20th year he’s recorded at least one victory. To put the latter in perspective, only Sam Snead with 24 and Jack Nicklaus with 21 have more.

5. Stat of the Week II: To further illustrate Goydos’ earlier point about the immaculate condition of courses, particularly ones in the desert, the cumulative scoring average at TPC Scottsdale (68.954) was the lowest in the history of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

6. Stat of the Week III: Jason Dufner’s streak of consecutive cuts ended at 22 when he finished at 3 under to miss getting to the weekend by a shot. Ian Poulter now has the longest active streak of consecutive cuts made at 16 straight.

7. The first two events of the year were won by players in their 20s. Two of the last three? By guys in their 40s (Brian Gay, Phil Mickelson). There’s no question players in their 20s are winning more now than ever before, or at least it seems like it, but there’s still something to be said for age and experience.

8. One side note from the Paul Goydos and Chris Mazzioti conversation was the thought process as they approached the magic number. It entered Goydos’ mind after the 15th hole, where he gave himself a pep talk and made sure to keep his focus on each shot rather than the sum of their parts. Mazzioti didn’t realize it until he was forecaddieing on the 17th hole and noticed the 10 under on the standard bearer’s sign. Mazziotti, whose stepfather owned some minor league baseball teams when he was growing up, knew well enough to not say a word, much like a pitcher and catcher would in a no-hitter. They just went about their business as usual -- until the 18th hole. Goydos had 176 yards in, normally a 6-iron. But because he knew Goydos’ adrenaline was pumping he gave him a 6-iron. Goydos hit his approach to just inside 8 feet and made the putt.

9. I’ve played fantasy football for years. Same with baseball. Golf? Never -- until now. You’ll notice a change in our weekly expert picks beginning this week as we move from the previous format to our fantasy golf game. You’ll be able to follow along and pick against us.

Monday Backspin Mailbag
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What do you think is in store for Brandt Snedeker this year? I got paired with his golf coach from Vandy about 12 years ago on a local Nashville muni. He told me about Brandt and what a special young man and player he was and that he expected him to make a big splash on TOUR. Do you think he has a legitimate shot at being No. 1 in the world? -- Roy Wallace

No. 1 in the world might be a stretch for the simple reason that there's a pretty big gap between Rory McIlroy and everyone else. That said, I do think Snedeker will win two or three times this year, possibly even a major. There's not much in the way of holes in his game and when you putt it as well as he does that makes him that much more of a complete player.

What's your prediction on Tiger Woods for this year? -- Eric T. Wacker

First, I should point out Eric is not a relative -- at least as far as I know. As for Tiger, I think he, too, wins a few times this season. He already has one win, and given the apparent improvement in his short irons and play around the greens, I think has a very good chance at winning another Masters.

Have a question for the mailbag? Email your question to brianwacker@pgatourhq.com, or tweet it to @pgatour_brianw.

Forward Spin: Who I Like This Week
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There’s no better scenery in golf than the shore of the Monterrey Peninsula and Pebble Beach. Last year, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods gave us one of those early season showdowns that was pretty special with Mickelson taking it to Woods in the form of a final-round 64 and career win No. 40. The way Mickelson played last week -- particularly off the tee -- I don’t see any reason for him not to carry that form to this week. It doesn’t happen very often that a player wins in consecutive weeks, but I think this could be one of those times.

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