Ho-Hum. Moments before Mickelson pulled off his great escape on the final hole of regulation (above), ABC's Curtis Strange said, "[Phil], you have one tough pitch left," while his colleague Bob Rosburg was similarly foreboding: "I know Phil's a genius at this, but this is really a hard shot." Tied for the lead with David Berganio Jr. at 29 under, Mickelson was in the greenside rough 35 feet from a tucked flag—the perfect spot for a flop. Sure, the flop is a low-percentage play for most golfers, even Tour pros, but the shot is a part of Mickelson's arsenal. It's no surprise, then, that after the round Mickelson wasn't impressed that he had hit it stone dead and made birdie. "It was a good shot, yeah," he said nonchalantly.
Mr. Creativity sorry, Tiger, but Mickelson is the Tour's most imaginative wedge player, and he offered further proof on the first playoff hole. Pulling the same 60-degree L-wedge he had used for his flop, Mickelson stiffed an 80-yard approach from a tight lie in the middle of the fairway, using the green's contours as a backstop to spin his ball to within a foot. Different type of shot, same spectacular result.
Practice makes perfect it's no secret why Mickelson is one of fewer than a dozen Tour players who have the skill—and the guts—to routinely hit flops. As a child he spent countless days (and nights) toiling on the 25-yard hole in his family's backyard in San Diego, and he's an even more diligent practicer now. At the 1998 Tour Championship, I watched him spend 90 minutes working solely on the trajectory of his flop shots after a Tuesday practice round.
No looking back the media have routinely roasted Mickelson for the flops he has muffed, including one during the third round of last year's Masters, when he ballooned a 20-yarder from the front of the 14th green and watched the ball fly only halfway to the flag, leading to a disastrous double bogey. But Mickelson knows that for every flop he misses, he's going to hit nine winners, which is why he has never shied away from the shot, even when a tournament is on the line, as it was at the Hope.