Pádraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson have a lot in common. Often spectacular, always popular and blessed with short games skills that are the envy of world golf, they are also capable of snatching disaster from the jaws of victory.
In the second round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open it was Mickelson’s turn to leave us shaking our heads in bewilderment as he followed 35 holes of perfect golf with a sloppy, 18th hole double bogey that cost him the chance to break the all-time, 36-hole aggregate scoring record for the PGA Tour.
Having lipped out for a magical round of 59 on Thursday, the left-hander came to the 18th at TPC Scottsdale eight under for his round and 19 under for the tournament.
Needing just a par-four to break the scoring record of 124 by a stroke, he took a three wood for safety, sliced it into a lake and ended up racking up a double bogey six for a second round 65 that took some of the gloss off two near perfect days of golf.
He still leads the tournament by four shots from Bill Haas (64) on 17 under par and by five from Keegan Bradley (63) and Brandt Snedeker (66). But it was a moment that summed up Mickelson’s persona to a tee and he was, somewhat understandably, “disappointed” despite going 60-65.
Still, he tried to turn his finish into a positive. Very Harrington-like.
“I think it’s very possible that’s going to help me because it’s got me refocused, that I cannot ease up on a single shot,” Mickelson said. “… These guys are going to make a lot of birdies and I’ve got to get after it and cannot make those kinds of mistakes.
“Hopefully it’ll help me refocus for tomorrow’s round and come out and shoot something low.”
Harrington got a perfect view of the Phil Show for two full days as he played in the group behind the four-time major winner alongside Snedeker and Hunter Mahan.
But this was quite not the same Harrington who scorched around in 64 on Thrusday and in the end he was just slightly off in almost every department of his game, eventally carding a one under 70 that dropped him from joint second to 20th and nine shots behind the leader on eight under.
Harrinton started slowly, playing the first two holes in regulation fashion before holing a six footer for birdie at the par-five third. A birdie from six feet at the sixth moved him back into the top 10 before he his tee shot heavy at the 213 yard seventh and had to scramble for par from short of the green.
Then came the struggles.
With just 105 yards to the pin on the ninth, he dithered over club selection and came up short, spinning back into a greenside trap from where he splashed out to seven feet and missed the putt.
At the 10th he had a trucky 16 footer for birdie down the hill but misread it slightly, then horsehoed out for birdie from 10 feet at the next before chipping and putting for a par-three at the tough 12th.
In the group ahead, he could see that Mickelson had followed six opening pars with five birdies in the next seven holes to lead on 16 under.
Harrington was back in a tie for 16th, eight shots behind and needed to pick up a shot at the par-five 13th to keep the left-hander within a reasonable distance.
After a 300 yard drive, he leaked his five-wood second shot slightly and dribbled into a deep greenside trap but played a fantastic, high recovery that pitched four feet beyond the pin and stopped six feet away.
He converted the putt for his third birdie of the day but took six at the par-five 15th, where Mickelson had just made a spectacular eagle moments earlier, by coming up short in the water from 230 yards.
Mickelson’s eagle three him seven under for the day and when he drove the green at the short, par-four 17th and camly two-putted for birdie, he came to his final hole for the second day in a row with a chance to create history.
Lady Luck denied him in round one, when his 25 footer for a 59 looped around the hole and stayed out when it appeared certain to drop. But this time the pain was self-inflicted as he tried to take a fairway bunker out of play by choosing a three wood from the tee but inadvertently brought the water into play.
Short with his third after a drop, he pitched poorly and missed a seven footer for bogey that would have given him a share of the record.
Harrington, meanwhile, was up and down over the closing stretch. Having missed a nine foot birdie chance at the stadium 16th, he hit a brilliant pitch to two feet from an awkward angle at the 17th to get back to two under for his round.
But he bogeyed the last by finding the trap that Mickelson wanted to avoid off the tee, coming up 42 yards short of the pin before missing a 15 footer for his par. His tap-in was his 28th putt of the day but having travelled to Phoenix to sample the unique atmosphere for himself, he could say he was disappointed. The official attendance on Friday was 121,901 - an all-time record.
If only Mickelson could say the same.