#10. Here’s a fun blind tee shot. And we’re going to get to see Phil off the tee, as if the producers are listening to me. Phil sets up for it:
Johnny Miller draws a little circle on the line Phil should be hitting:
Then Phil nails it straight through, as you can see via ProTracer:
That was fun, it was like a little Golden Tee/Tiger Woods PGA Tour minigame.
In any case, that’s a perfect tee shot. He’s left with 168 yards to go, and he plays it to the safe side of the green, pin high. The crew points out that he’s hit every green in regulation, which is crazy for Phil; he’s normally a master scrambler by necessity. And then he drains another bomb! Unreal putting for Phil. Just a blameless start. Miller notes that Phil has had just fifteen putts in ten holes. He’s tied for the lead at -5.
#11. The crew talks up the eleventh hole as one of the hardest par-4s in the world. It’s 470 yards with a blind tee shot, and tight out of bounds down the right, so it looks every bit the part. Phil’s hit six of eight fairways to this point, and from what I’ve seen, his misses have been by a matter of feet.
He pulls 3-wood here, and stripes yet another one. Tthe ball sits down right away in the fairway, not getting any roll out at all. Mickelson, back at the tee box, has no way of knowing this was the result, but the broadcast picks up a bit of dialogue between Phil and his caddy, Bones:
“That’s a bit short. I hit it good, but it spun a bit off the tee.”
A nice reminder that these guys are freakishly in tune with the ball.
Phil has 215 yards remaining, with a OB boundary wall cutting in near the green. He leaves his approach a bit short, but on a links course with a front pin location, he’s in a great spot to putt. It does end his streak of greens in regulation, though. Ernie Els finds that wall, illustrating just how difficult the hole is. Phil lags yet another putt close, and as he steps up for his par effort, an electric train zooms past just beyond the wall, maybe fifty yards away from Mickelson.
Phil’s so locked in he doesn’t even back off. He sinks it, remaining at -5.
#12. The crew has started to talk about the chance for Phil to have a special day, saying things like “Phil’s playing some great golf…could be one of those days.” But many, perhaps especially Miller, are still saying things like “A lot of guys are playing great so far.” Which is true, of course, but Phil’s not a lot of guys, Phil is Phil, and he’s yet to hit a poor shot.
As Phil gets set to tee off on #12, Maltbie says:
“On the way to the green, Phil said to me ‘Wow, what a great day this is! I kind of wanted the wind and the rain.’ I said, ‘Hang on pal, I think it’s coming tomorrow.’ That’s what he says he’s looking forward to.”
Phil Mickelson, having played eleven flawless holes of major championship golf, tied for the lead with a realistic chance at a course and major-championship scoring record, wanted to talk about the weather.
On the 425-yard par 4, Mickelson plays a low, stinging iron, finding yet another fairway. With 166 yards in, he once again hits the middle of the green, about twenty feet away. It’s a difficult putt, over an elevation change. The speed is once again perfect, leaving a foot for par, which he cleans up easily. Through twelve holes, he’s not faced anything resembling a difficult par save.
#13. The broadcast has finally realized what might be happening, and we’re now seeing pretty much every Phil shot. Here he is pulling driver. Take a look at the target graphic:
And then where Phil’s drive goes:
Unreal. He was absolutely piping the ball. It rolls out of the fairway by a few feet, so he doesn’t get to count it as a fairway hit, but that’s an absolutely perfect shot.
Spoke too soon about the broadcast, as we go fourteen minutes before seeing Phil again, cycling through two commercial breaks, a prepackaged intro, and multiple recap segments before Phil attempts another birdie putt, from a long, long way away. This is easily the farthest he’s been from the pin in regulation, and we didn’t see the shot. Thanks, NBC/Golf Channel.
From about sixty feet, Phil lags it to a yard, and faces his most difficult par putt of the day so far, by default. He knocks it right in.
#14. Phil has a 7-iron from 167, which is a stark contrast to his shot at the fifth hole, where he hit 7-iron from 206. That’s a great illustration of how the winds change from the front side of the course to the back. He hits the middle of the green, surprise surprise. Nick Faldo is back, providing more insight on Phil’s round:
“He’s doing great, but it’s like hashtag throwback Thursday. You’ve got Phil up there, and Stricker, Vijay had a very good day as well. It’s all because the golf course has become playable.”
Thanks, Nick. Well-observed.
Phil has about twenty feet for the outright lead… and it’s in. Of course it is. Perfect speed, perfect line, and Phil is at -6 with four holes to play. He’s now the outright leader. Faldo notes that the back nine is playing much easier than earlier, because heaven forbid anyone praise Phil without reservation. That’s six birdies and eight pars for Phil. He’s missed one green (by about two feet), and has just 22 putts on the round to this point.
#15. Mickelson takes out the 3-wood and bombs one down the middle of the 496-yard par 4. He’s got 210 left, and he comes up just a bit short. Once again, it likely counts as a missed green, but he’s only about a yard from the putting surface. And on a links course, the difference between on the green and off is much less obvious anyway.
We go to commercial. A Geico ad comes on, with two dads building competing sandcastles on the beach. I think “Wow, those guys look fairly young for dads in a commercial.” And then I realize that I’m actually just getting old. This is depressing. Please return to golf.
We do, thankfully. Phil has sixty feet, which he lags ridiculously close. Yet again. He has two feet for par, which he makes easily. He’s never struggled for par. That’s been the craziest part of Phil’s round, as it’s so out of character.
#16. With three holes remaining, it’s time for the final par-5, 550 yards. Phil has an iron on the tee, as there’s a burn crossing the fairway at 289 yards, forcing a layup for most players. Though the crew hasn’t mentioned it (or if they have it’s been brief), the record low for a major championship round is 63. Phil would need to play the final three holes in 3-under to break it, but with a scorable par-5 here, he has a real chance to do it.
At a major, 63 has been shot 25 times. The last time was actually just last year, at the PGA Championship, when Hiroshi Iwata did it in Round 2. It happens less often at the British Open; Rory McIlroy did it in 2010 at St. Andrews. Prior to that, you have to go back to Payne Stewart in 1993. Of course, the first man to do it was Johnny Miller at the 1973 U.S. Open. And Nick Faldo has one of those rounds of 63 as well, at the 1993 British Open.
Phil knows exactly what these numbers mean, but he’s playing as loose as can be. Take a look at this tee shot:
It’s so straight on the ProTracer that you can’t even see it come down after the apex, as it’s right in line. It’s also a pro move by Phil to bend down for the tee before the ball is even close to landing. He did this many times during the round. They mention Phil’s career-low British Open round, which was a 66 at St. Andrews in 2000.
He has 291 remaining from the middle of the fairway, and he’s going for it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this decision, as well as he’s swinging it. But instead of chasing it up the green, he ends up in a front bunker. He immediately tells Bones it will be fine, but it doesn’t look fine; he’s up against a pretty tall face.
While we await Phil’s sand effort, Westwood knocks it in for eagle! Good for Lee, one of golf’s good guys (you might recall how furious he was at the USGA’s treatment of his U.S. Open playing partner, Dustin Johnson) who gets things to even par.
And now Phil, inches from the face of the bunker, pulls out his 64-degree wedge and lets it rip:
And he flops it to about twelve feet! Unreal. The first time he’s had to attempt a patented Phil recovery shot, he executes it flawlessly. And he pours in the birdie putt. Just fabulous golf, as he hits -7.
#17. Finally someone mentions 62, as Phil heads to the tee box, handing his ball to a kid. Terry Gannon brings it up, mentioning that Phil needs two birdies on the final two holes. Then Gannon mentions that Faldo has one of those rounds of 63. Faldo’s analysis:
“I’m in the 63 club. I’m keeping quiet.”
Let’s remember that Nick Faldo’s only job at this point is to present insight to the viewer. He’s been chasing the exact same thing Mickelson is currently chasing. He’s played Troon multiple times under Open conditions. And because he’s concerned about someone breaking his record, one so prestigious that he shares it with 24 other guys, he’s keeping quiet. Thanks as always, Nick.
The broadcast notes that the lowest score at Troon is 64, shared by Tiger Woods and Greg Norman.
Phil goes with a 4-iron from 221 at the final par-3 on the course. And it’s right at it, pin high and about fifteen feet away.
“If somebody’s going to do it, I want to see it, live.”
Thanks for finally realizing the situation, Nick. It’s nice to have you on board.
Phil’s putt, now. He stands over it for a while. It’s at the hole. It hangs on the edge. And then it falls, because that’s the kind of day it’s been.
“He has a shot at history! A putt that was so Phil Mickelson. Drama to the end. Just dancing on the edge, to make wonder.”
Yeah, okay, Terry. Thanks. That’s the kind of thing that a broadcaster says when he knows he has to say something, but has no words to connect to what’s actually happening. Today, Phil’s been straight solid. Els gives Phil a fist bump.
#18. As Mike Tirico notes, it’s about a 200-yard walk to the final tee. Tirico brings up the fact that Phil never thought he could win the British, which is true, and a point that has been brought up time and again since his win in 2013. But I’m not sure how that relates to today’s round, which isn’t for a win. It’s like the crew doesn’t quite know how to set up a shot at 63.
Now Gannon and Faldo are bringing up his failures at the U.S. Open, and whether his past struggles make this all the more impressive. No! That’s unrelated! He’s always been able to go low on any given day in a major. This is wholly disconnected from what he’s trying to do. The one factor that I’m stunned hasn’t been mentioned is his age. After all this time, he has the chance to post not just his personal best round at a major, but the best score in major championship history.
The finishing hole is 441 yards, and Phil has driver! Bones talks him out of it, into a fairway metal. Maltbie calls that wise, as there are fairway bunkers in play with driver. Faldo takes the opportunity to mention that Greg Norman hit driver into a fairway bunker, because Nick Faldo is a petty man.
Phil’s tee shot is a bit of a push, and Bones immediately says “Miss it. Miss it somehow.” We see why, as the ball comes down and then somehow skips over a bunker down the left side of the fairway. He’s in the rough, but with a good lie.
We take a look at video of Nick Price and Tiger Woods lipping out putts for 62 in majors. Painful.
Phil has 179 remaining, into a well-guarded green. And he flushes it. Unreal. He’s got sixteen feet left for history.
That was just about a perfect round of ballstriking. His final tee shot was pushed a bit, and he did end up in a fairway bunker on #16. Other than that, he really made no mistakes with the long clubs. And he was even better with the short ones. The group comes up 18, receiving well-earned adulation from the gallery. Terry Gannon is full of relevant information, mentioning that two women have shot 62 in majors.
NBC’s graphics say the upcoming sixteen-foot putt has a slight break.
Westwood and Els both putt out, setting the stage for Mickelson:
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 14, 2016
Oh my goodness. That’s unbelievable. That putt was dead in the heart, and it took a right turn in the final inches, and lips out. On the closest look, it appears that it took just a slight bump before lipping out to the right. That putt should have gone in.
Mickelson did everything possible to shoot 62 in a major, playing perfectly all day. You might think 63 would be enough to satisfy him, but when you’ve done as much as Phil has in his career, you start chasing more. And he certainly seemed to realize that he doesn’t have many shots at history remaining, giving a fairly devastating interview for a guy leading the Open by three shots:
“It started on my line, and it was right in the center of the hole with a foot to go, and it breaks to the left and then it straightens out right there, and it went back to the right a little bit harder. We’ve seen all these highlights, and yet I feel like crying. (laughs) I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how that ball missed, because it was perfect speed and in the center with a foot to go…as great a round as this was, I mean, I’m not going to have a chance to do something historical like that again, maybe if I’m lucky one other time, and to miss it that way…at least I could have hit a big flail and not even have a chance, but that ball was right in the center. It’s heartbreaking.”
And that is in itself incredibly sad, for both Phil and the sport. For Phil, he obviously wanted that accomplishment. But for fans, the sad thing is that Phil’s days at the top of the sport are winding down. He’s 46. His career is solidly in the twilight stage, and that’s incredibly tough to think about. Few players in history have been as beloved as Mickelson. His popularity stems from his personality, from his playing style, and from the ways in which those two things intertwine, for better and for worse.
But, on Thursday, he played a perfect round of golf. We won’t know until Sunday if he’ll be rewarded with a second Claret Jug, but after that putt lipped out, he’ll certainly be a crowd favorite.
Of course, he always is.