Lefty puts on a show at Muirfield
There weren't that many there when Phil Mickelson played through Saturday, but there was still a nice horde of humanity to see the PGA Tour's most popular healthy player, here in the era of Tiger Woods' (temporary?) demise.
You'll see more of that when Mickelson comes to a Greenbrier near you, I promise.
Finishing up a long hike around Jack Nicklaus' fabled layout, I plopped among the patrons atop a hill to the right of that 18th, a "short" 444-yard par 4. Those people knew Mickelson was struggling at 1-over-par for the day, but awaited his drive nonetheless.
As we looked at the probable landing area, we heard a ball whistle through the trees directly above us. We thought we heard the sound of the ball hitting the cart path, and a few fans started looking for the ball. We couldn't see the tee from our vantage point, so we didn't have a clue where to look.
Neither did Mickelson. Perhaps fearing he pushed the ball off the property altogether, he hit a provisional ball. That went in the left rough, though we thought it might be Webb Simpson's tee shot.
Suddenly, we discovered the ball in plain sight in the bottom of a gully at the foot of the green. The fairway is skinny in that spot, but the ball was dead in the middle.
The patrons were befuddled. "Who hit that?" was a repeatedly asked question.
Finally, a few of us figured it out. "It's Mickelson, isn't it? He must have hit it short."
Eventually, it hit me. "No, no. It's Lefty's tee shot," I called out.
Yes, it was, recorded at a whopping 386 yards. Because he cut the dogleg, he had less than 30 yards to the hole, where he chipped to less than 5 feet and drained the birdie putt.
The wretched shame of it was the birdie salvaged an even-par 72. Shoot, Mickelson also needed a birdie on the 17th, meaning he birdied two of the three toughest holes this week to stay at 2-under for the tournament. He is 10 shots behind Steve Stricker, who owns eagles on a par-3, a par-4 and a par-5.
In fact, Mickelson teed off so early Saturday, he missed the CBS window of 3 to 6 p.m. and was only seen on Golf Channel. He did pick up three spots, from 28th to 25th.
"I'm actually pretty pleased with a lot of areas that I feel like I've been doing well," Mickelson said afterward. "But the one area that I'm identifying I'll spend a little time on is putting. My speed has been off, and so my reads consequently haven't been great because I haven't matched them up."
Ah, the putts. Some birdie putts came oh-so-close to going in - a 14-footer on No. 2, a 12-footer on No. 10, a 13-footer at No. 11 and 15 feet on No. 14. Add in a 36-foot eagle putt on No. 15 that just missed, and Mickelson could have hit the leaderboard - even with a water-induced double bogey at No. 9.
But he was 2-over for the day when he got to the 14th, the shortest par-4 at a listed 363 yards. He quit worrying about the creek and defiantly pulled his driver out of the bag, prompting somebody to yell, "Send it!"
Which he did, going past pin-high in the left bunker. Unfortunately, he pulled his sand shot and settled for par.
After he birdied No. 15 and bogeyed No. 16, all traces of abandon left Mickelson. He punished his tee shot on the 17th 378 yards, leaving him 96 yards from the hole. And when you thought he couldn't outdo that, he hit that ridiculous drive on the 18th, the fourth-longest of the week.
Matt Kuchar, the Tour's leading money winner in 2010, wasn't surprised to hear about it. He's seen it before at Muirfield, playing in Mickelson's twosome.
"We must have been seven shots off the lead, something like that," Kuchar recalled. "I watched him just absolutely go for everything, and it was fun to watch. He wasn't going to be satisfied with second place. I mean, he thought he could win, and he actually got himself in contention that year."
Actually, he finished fourth in that Memorial, in 2006. That's the best Mickelson has managed in 11 tries at one of the most prestigious non-major stops on the PGA Tour.
But that's OK. He won the Houston Open this year for his 39th victory, and owns three Masters titles, a PGA Championship and a Tour Championship. And he's coming to our fair state eight weeks hence.
Get ready to elbow your way through all the humanity who are sure to follow. I guarantee he'll be more fun than the Black Eyed Peas.
Twenty players from The Greenbrier Classic's inaugural edition are in the top 35 at Muirfield Village, I am pleased to report.
Jonathan Byrd is second at 9-under, Matt Kuchar is third at 8-under and Mark Wilson is fifth at 7-under. Marc Leishman, Troy Matteson, Gary Woodland and Rod Pampling are tied for eighth; Scott Piercy and Brett Wetterlich are tied for 14th, and Simpson, Charles Howell III, John Senden and Ricky Barnes are tied for 17th.
All in all, you've got to take it.
In a move every bit as daring as selling beer at Mountaineer Field, the PGA Tour sites are allowing cell phones on the course.
At The Greenbrier and everywhere else, you were asked to leave your gadgets back in the car. If you were honest enough to declare you had one, that meant a shuttle bus back to the state fairgrounds. If you sneaked it in, you only dared to use it in the port-a-potties.
I can just envision it: Tiger trying to get out of the deep rough and somebody's phone goes off. Better yet, with the ringtone I once used, Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train."
But the PGA experimented with it late last year, and has given tournaments the go-ahead to allow them. One official said all sites have gone along, and he expects The Greenbrier to follow suit.
The Memorial is going even further, making an iPhone app available.
The ground rules are simple: First and foremost, silence the daggone thing. That's the scary part - in my experience, one-third of any group gathered doesn't seem to know how to do that, and most have wimpy, annoying ringers.
You may text, tweet, Facebook, etc., to your heart's content, away from shots in progress. There are restricted calling areas if you really, really have to yap.
Photo-taking, however, is a no-no during competitive rounds, and you will be shot on sight. Actually, that prohibition was bent more than a few times, particularly in the Mickelson following.
But golf and cell phones seemed to coexist in harmony on this Saturday. Let's hope beer sales at WVU go half as well.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.