Phil Mickelson Back on Track with Roller Coaster Win in 2009 at Riviera!

Phil Mickelson Back on Track with Roller Coaster Win at Riviera

Phil Mickelson repeats as Champion of the 2009 Northern Trust Open at Riviera CC. Photo Credit:

Phil Mickelson repeats as Champion of the 2009 Northern Trust Open at Riviera CC. Photo Credit:

Earlier in the week Phil was asked if playing Riviera CC and defending his 2008 Northern Trust victory will help him get his game back on track.

He replied, “I certainly hope so. I’ve played well here the last couple of years. I think that it’s starting to come around.

“The first three weeks obviously were not what I wanted. This is a great place to get it turned around.”

Those first three weeks of the season included a missed cut at the FBR Open in his collegiate home state of Arizona, a tie for 42nd at the Buick Invitational in his childhood backyard at Torrey Pines and a tie for 55th in last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

The roller coaster we know and love, as Phil seemed to be shutdown, off-track, with the engine still in the barn. The energy level, the smile, and the sheepish confidence reemerged this week and provided us with an exciting Sunday finish in a grand old tournament that dates back to 1926.

How did Phil get back on track? His billionaire amateur-playing partner Charles Schwab last week up north at Pebble Beach may have had something to do with it. Maybe they had a conversation about the current economic situation we all face and the message to Phil was to get back out there and win some cash because investments are down and money is tight. On the first tee at Pebble Beach on Saturday morning Chuck was carrying their pro-am team. Phil was only one-under and the team was 14-under. Chuck was not sandbagging either, as he played with an eight handicap.

While comic actors came to the first tee and asked the crowd what the difference between a pizza and an actor was, it appeared Phil was all business. Others like Parker McLachlin were chitchatting and pointing out to Chuck that he was playing with an older generation golf ball.

Ten minutes before Mickelson teed off he was eyeing the fairway and asking his caddie Bones if it was “250 to the bunker?” The answer was a pizza can feed a family of four. But Phil is no actor or comic. He knows he needs to win and that is what he is focused on doing.

It was a roller-coaster week for Phil at Riviera starting off low on Thursday with a 63, then ramping it up to a 72 on Friday so we could all feel the rush of the roller coaster going down even lower to a 62 on Saturday. Sunday we were back up to 72 but with many twists and turns.

The start of the ride was exciting as Phil drained a 38-footer to match Freddie Couples’ gimmie eagle on the par-five first hole.  Freddie was close throughout the day but needed a few more putts to drop.

The third member of the final group, Andres Romero, hung in there too with a chance for a playoff spot if he made a 15-foot putt on the 18th green and Phil missed a six-foot par putt. Phil didn’t miss and won the tournament outright in the regulation up-and-down, in-and-out 72 holes.

Steve Stricker hopeless four weeks ago in the California desert with a disastrous Sunday 77 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic hosted by Arnold Palmer. “That one stuck with me, you know, it just felt like I threw a tournament away with a real good opportunity to win.” This Sunday he trusted his swing, his instincts and came from seven strokes back after the first hole, had the lead and almost won the 2009 Northern Trust Open.

Stricker finished alone in second place. “It’s kind of bittersweet. I’m happy that I’m putting myself in those positions to try to win golf tournaments, but I’m also disappointed I haven’t won one of them or maybe both of them. So it’s good and bad.” We all know golf is a roller coaster ride, don’t we?

“I’ll take a lot out of this to be able to heart it out on 16 and 17 with those on two birdies. Then to make that par on 18 when two years ago I didn’t, that meant a lot to me.”

Phil has heart and focus and now back-to-back victories in one of the premier tournaments on the PGA TOUR. It could have been three in a row if not for that bogey on 18 and the resultant playoff loss to Charles Howell III.

K.J. Choi finished strong with three birdies on the back nine. A fourth birdie, namely making an 11-footer on No. 18 would also have given him a chance for a playoff if Phil hadn’t finished all contenders off by paring the tough 18th hole. K. J. wound up joint third with Couples and Romero.

On Saturday the 2006 champion Rory Sabbatini commented that “this golf course has been known to make people do some silly things out there, and we’ll just see what happens.” On Sunday he went out there and proved himself correct with a double bogey five on the relatively short and simple par-three 16th hole.

His errant tee shot resulted in a horrendous “fried-egg” lie in the deep left bunker. That collapse and a bogey on No. 18 negated his four birdie Sunday back nine charge. Sabbatini finished tied for 6thplace with Mark Calcavecchia, Luke Donald, and J.B. Holmes.

Quite coincidentally, CBS aired a Northern Trust roller coaster commercial during Sunday’s broadcast. A couple is discussing their financial security on the boardwalk—or the pier, as they say in southern California—while their kids are riding a roller coaster in the background.

The man assures his wife that Northern Trust “gets it” and reveals that “roller coasters are for kids” and not for their financial investments. Maybe the PGA TOUR should remake that commercial with Amy and Phil.

Gosh darn that was fun! The up-and-down exciting competition on the PGA TOUR is fun to watch whether in person or on television. We are all kids so come on out and enjoy the thrilling ride to the end of competition each and every week.

Phil has Augusta on his mind noting in his post victory interview that he wanted to “see if I can continue to build on this and carry some momentum into Augusta.”

However, there are a few more ups-and-downs in the seven weeks preceding the playing of the 2009 Masters. Namely, two World Golf championship events with the strongest fields ever competing in match play format this week and then again in medal format at Doral in another two weeks.

And, oh, by the way—that fellow with the name of Tiger Woods is back in the field this week.

Let’s all enjoy the ride this week as Phil and Tiger compete in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Maybe we’ll see two roller coasters collide and see which one stays on track to Augusta.

(First published by Andy Reistetter on Bleacher Report circa 2-22-09.)