Maginnes: Mickelson tries something crazy, pulls it off

May 12, 2007
By John Maginnes PGATOUR.com Contributor

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The 10th hole on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass gets lost in the collection of great holes on Pete Dye's signature layout.

The 424-yard, dogleg-left par 4 is framed off the tee by a long bunker that sits several feet below the fairway. If a player avoids the bunker and finds the narrow ribbon of fairway he is left with an approach shot to a green that is well-protected and undulating.

mickelson_200_maginnes.jpg

Coming off a bogey at No. 9 on Saturday during the third round of THE PLAYERS Championship, Phil Mickelson drove his ball left. After the ball rattled around in the trees, Phil was faced with a fairway bunker shot from short of the corner of the dogleg. There is a grove of mature palm trees on the mound above the trap, as well as some tall pines whose limbs overhang just above the palm fronds.

It seemed obvious that Phil was going to have to hit a big left-handed cut just to get his ball up somewhere to the right of the green. After conferring with his caddy Bones Mackay, Phil entered the bunker. He took his stance, and it was obvious that he was taking dead aim. At the time, it seemed like a ludicrous play. But Phil picked a 7-iron off the sand and it sailed cleanly through the narrowest of windows in the trees. The ball came to rest 30 feet to the right of the hole.

After the round, I asked Bones how wide the gap was. He laughed and admitted that he hadn't even looked through the trees. He thought Phil was going with the big cut. When I asked Phil about the shot, he said that the window in the trees provided a perfect trajectory for a 7-iron. He smiled and said if he had wanted to be really aggressive he would have tried to cut the shot over toward the hole. With a little prodding he also admitted that he hadn't discussed the shot with Bones because he didn't want his caddy to try to talk him out of it.

If Phil goes on to victory, the shot he hit on Saturday at the 10th hole will undoubtedly be one of the highlights. When a player has the imagination, ability and the guts to even attempt a play like that he becomes -- well, he becomes Phil.

If Phil is going to win THE PLAYERS, he is going to have to beat a large number of players who have had success on the course on the PGA TOUR that most resembles the TPC Sawgrass. Harbour Town, which is nestled 120 miles up the coast in Hilton Head, S.C., was also designed by Pete Dye. The similarities were never as obvious when THE PLAYERS was held in March. To have the golf course in championship condition, the TPC Sawgrass was overseeded with rye grass with thick, lush rough and speedy greens.

May in Ponte Vedra, though, is ideal for the Bermuda grass that carpets the TPC Sawgrass and is similar to what the players faced a month ago in Hilton Head. With that in mind, it is no surprise that three former champions of the Verizon Heritage are in the top five going into Sunday's final round at THE PLAYERS. Peter Lonard, who donned the tartan jacket in 2005, is tied for third at 7 under while last year's winner, Aaron Baddeley, and the 2001 champion, Jose Coceres, are two strokes behind in a tie for fifth. Incidentally, young Sean O'Hair, who leads Phil by a stroke, played Harbor Town for the first time as a professional this spring and finished in the top 10.

Obviously, it is hard to bet against a man with 31 PGA TOUR victories when he is in the final group on Sunday. But Pete Dye's influence has never been more evident at THE PLAYERS. If you are going to look elsewhere for a winner, look for someone who has played well north on I-95. But keep an eye on Phil because he just might try something crazy, and he might even pull it off.