SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Phil Mickelson’s performance en route to his third Waste Management Phoenix Open title was nothing short of dominant, and it could prove to be just the beginning of a big year for Lefty.
With his first PGA Tour win of the season — and a new driver that served him well all week — in the bag, Mickelson might very well be in for his best year since a three-win 2009.
“It’s an important one for me because it’s been a while since I won; it’s been a while since I’ve been in contention,” Mickelson said Sunday. “I think the thing I’m most excited about was the way I was able to regain control of my thoughts after a couple shots early on that I didn’t care for and come back and hit a number of good shots on the back nine to do what I needed to do to win. I think that sets up the tone for the rest of the year.”
To wrap up the first wire-to-wire win on the PGA Tour since Rory McIlroy at the 2011 US Open, Mickelson shot a four-under-par 67, his worst round of the week, to finish 28 under. Second-place finisher Brandt Snedeker shot a six-under 65 Sunday but never cut Mickelson’s lead to less than three strokes.
Mickelson, who had not won since Feb. 12 last year at Pebble Beach, now has a PGA Tour win in 10 straight seasons, the longest active streak. But he does not have multiple wins in a season since 2009, when he won the Northern Trust Open, WGC Cadillac Championship and Tour Championship.
If history repeats itself, winning the Phoenix Open might signify a strong year ahead. In the other two seasons Mickelson won at TPC Scottsdale (1996 and 2005), he finished the year with four total wins. He has only tallied as many victories in one other season, that being 2000.
“For me, the rest of the year took a turn on Tuesday when I got my new driver,” Mickelson said. “It just changed my whole deal.”
Mickelson, 42, expressed all week that the new driver could change his game drastically. He even credited the Callaway RAZR Fit Extreme as the difference in his Phoenix Open-record 60 in the first round Thursday.
“If this driver does what it did for me today, it could alter my game significantly,” Mickelson said Thursday. “It really could be a revolutionary club for me.”
Mickelson raved about the ease with which the new club allowed him to hit tee shots. He was so happy with it, in fact, he gave it a kiss after a 318-yard drive on the 10th hole Friday. The driver has, no doubt, made a difference for Mickelson from his first two tournaments of the season.
After finishing tied for 37th in the Humana Challenge and tied for 51st in the Farmers Insurance Open last weekend, Mickelson was not off to the start he expected and got with swing coach Butch Harmon earlier this week to make some tweaks.
“Before the season started, I had been playing really well, kind of like I am this week as far as iron play and so forth,” Mickelson said Saturday. “Certainly, tying for 37th and 50-something doesn’t really indicate this kind of play coming the next week — I understand that — but it did not feel far off.”
Those tweaks proved just what Mickelson needed to put together the most dominant performance of his entire career, which saw him flirt with records for 18-, 36- 54- and 72-hole scores. His 72-hole 256 tied Mark Calcavecchia’s Phoenix Open record and fell two strokes short of the PGA Tour record.
Sunday’s final round provided a little intrigue as Snedeker gave chase, but Mickelson appeared untouchable from his magnificent first round onward.
Snedeker has now finished in the top 10 in five of his past eight events and three of four this season, including a second-place finish to Tiger Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last week. He could be in for a big year himself.
“I feel like I’m running into Hall of Famers every week,” Snedeker said. “Phil played unbelievable and deserved to win. That’s kind of what this week was about.”
Mickelson hopes to make that what the whole year is about. He reiterated over and over following his win Sunday how the new driver could set him up for a big year, complementing his renowned short game.
The drives were impressive this week but did not provide the highlights Mickelson did with his putter. Mickelson’s most jaw-dropping putt of the week — and perhaps the most clear indicator he could not be caught — came Sunday on No. 7 when his 57-footer rolled uphill, ricocheted off the rough and rolled back down into the hole for birdie.
The win also further solidified Mickelson’s place as the king of the desert, the greatest golfer in Arizona’s history. Since the state adopted the San Diego native as a young phenomenon at Arizona State, Mickelson has played the state like no other. His third Phoenix Open win gave him six career victories in Arizona, tying him for the most with Johnny Miller, another California native who saw great success in the desert.
“Winning here in this town has meant so much to me, to (wife) Amy and I, where we met, had our first two kids, went to college,” Mickelson said. “It’s a special place.”
Mickelson gets to play another location almost certainly special to him, at least from a golf standpoint, next week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Mickelson has won at Pebble Beach four times, including last season. Not a bad place to take the momentum gained this week.
After that, it’s on to the Northern Trust Open in Pacific Palisades, Calif., where Mickelson has won twice.
It would be a stretch to think Mickelson could win both events, but taking one certainly seems reasonable. And if Mickelson continues this kind of play — or at least something close to it — into late spring, a fourth Green Jacket seems within the realm of possibility as well.