By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Thursday was quintessential Phil Mickelson.
When he made the turn in the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open after posting a 29 on the back nine at TPC Scottsdale, he wasn't just thinking about golf's holy grail, that elusive 59 just five players in PGA TOUR history have shot. Mickelson was focused on going one better.
He wanted 58.
That's why Phil is Phil.
"I'd say that's his kind of mode," Mickelson's long-time caddie, Bones Mackay, said. "He enjoys it. If it ends up not working out for him, he's going to go down giving you everything he's got if you know what I mean. ... He's comfortable, he likes that kind of stage, and he's not scared."
Mickelson gave it a great shot, too. At the par-4 eighth (his 17th hole of the day), he left an 18-foot birdie putt off a downhill, downgrain line a mere 5 inches short. Then, with the chance to join the 59 club, he watched a last-ditch attempt from 26 feet at No. 9 horseshoe out of the hole. He was stalking that final putt, brandishing his putter like a sword in the air, but ended up clutching his head in disbelief when the ball stubbornly refused to fall.
"It was a fun day, and I'm excited to shoot 60," Mickelson, who owns a four-shot lead, said with a sigh. "But to see that last putt lip out the way it did and not go in, it's crushing because you don't get that chance very often to shoot 59."
Mackay fell to his knees as the putt spun back at his boss like a boomerang headed for his heart. The huge gallery, nervous with anticipation the last few holes, let out gasps and groans.
Playing partners Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner, with ringside seats for 18 holes, both thought the ball would find the cup, too.
"Disappointing for everyone to not see that one go in on the last," Fowler said.
"Unlucky," the understated Dufner added.
"He could not have hit a better putt," Mackay noted between bites of a post-round peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. "... I saw (it) out of the corner of my eye kind of moving towards the hole, and I know it's got a good chance, and obviously the golf gods giveth and they taketh away, so there you have it."
Mickelson has now shot 11 under twice at TPC Scottsdale, and he and Zach Johnson are the only PGA TOUR players to ever shoot 60 or better more than once during their careers. Mickelson's two 60s couldn't have been more different, though -- when he shot 60 in the second round of the 2005 event, Mickelson birdied his last five holes.
"I was ecstatic (in 2005), and I'm ecstatic to shoot 60 (today)," Mickelson said. "But there's a big difference between 60 and 59. Not that big between 60 and 61, there really isn't. But there's a big barrier, a Berlin Wall barrier, between 59 and 60."
As the opportunities began to dwindle with each hole played, Mackay said he shied away from talking about what would have been a history-making round.
"Not that I would know, but I would think a little bit like a baseball pitcher pitching a no-hitter," Mackay said. "I'm handing him the putter and just totally getting away from him."
Mickelson, though, maintains he isn't superstitious. Besides, it wasn't like the elephant in the room could find a place to hide on this desert of a golf course.
"I don't mind talking about it because I was sure thinking it," the three-time major champion said.
Interestingly, Mickelson had been playing in the group behind Bo Van Pelt during Wednesday's pro-am. He was waiting on the 17th tee when Van Pelt's drive hit the pin and dropped a feet away for an eagle that put Van Pelt one birdie away from a 59.
Mickelson, who shot a 59 during the 2004 PGA Grand Slam of Golf, went over and started talking to the veteran pro.
"It should have gone in," Mickelson recalled. "And I kind of got into him. I said, 'Look, I don't care when it is, get a 3, make a 3 on the last hole because you don't get a chance to shoot 59.'
"Here I am the next day making a 4. Great."
At least Mickelson gave himself a chance, though.
Less than 24 hours after that conversation with Van Pelt, he and Mackay were walking down the same fairways with the same mission. Unlike Van Pelt, who played his last seven holes in 7 under, Mickelson had nine holes to ponder the possibilities and pucker up under the pressure. But he didn't.
Mickelson made birdie on three of his first four holes on the front nine to get to double digits under par. He then staked a 6-iron to a pin tucked behind a bunker for a 5-footer at No. 7 to move to 11 under and set the stage for the gut-wrenching finish.
"I just knew I could do it, and darn it, it just lipped out," Mickelson said. "That one -- that was heartbreaking."