Phil Mickelson spent the first 15 years of his PGA career as a guy who fans rooted for, but could never really get all the way behind during the Majors because at some point over the weekend he would find a way to screw it up. With his clutch birdie put on 18 to win in the 2004 Masters, his first major, it looked like Phil had finally gotten the monkey off his back - but then came 72nd hole at the 2006 US Open and Phil just couldn't help himself. With the lead and just needing a par to win the title he pulled out the driver, missed the fairway and hit a concession tent (after having literally been in a garbage can the hole before) and 15 minutes later he was watching Geoff Olgivy raise the trophy.
Phil has won two other majors since then (a Masters & a PGA Championship), but as a fan it was pretty hard to root for him this afternoon as there was always a sneaking suspicion that he was just waiting to make a mistake or blow up. When they made the turn and Phil was jockeying for the lead with Lee Westwood and KJ Choi, all while Tiger was coming on strong, you couldn't help but envision Lefty carding a pair of double-bogeys and hanging a 40 on the backside.
The thing that Phil had going for him, however, was that everyone else soon looked much shakier - the usually invincible Woods was clearly not in the zone, KJ melted under the pressure and Westwood just didn't have what it took to hang with Phil. So, on the 13th hole par 5, after his drive got hung up in the trees its really a great thing that neither the announcers, or the fans watching on TV, realized what he was planning. Instead of punching through and laying up short of the water in front of the green (which Westwood had done moments before), Mickelson decided to risk his lead and attempted to navigate the ball through two trees and down 207 yards to a wildly dangerous up front pin placement.
Lucky for Phil, and the rest of us who were watching, it worked like a charm and the ball landed inside 10 feet. He ended up missing the eagle putt, but still dropped in for birdie and kept up the separation he needed from the pack - eventually winning by 3 shots and enabling fans everywhere to smile and cheer as he hugged his wife and kids next to the 18th green.
But it wasn't the birdie on 13 that won the tourney, it was that he didn't make double bogey. The shot he played was reckless and poorly thought out - but when it safely hit the green we finally got to see that immensely creative talent of Phil Mickelson help him win a tourney and not squander an opportunity away.
Chalk one up for the good guy.