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Phourteen, Phifteen, New Wedge Leave Mickelson Phillin’ Groovy

By: Jay Flemma


Sometimes to find the story you need to read between the stats. This year’s U.S. Open is no exception.

Here’s an example. A friend and I went to a hockey game. I was rooting for the cellar-dwelling team in last place. He was cheering for the mighty juggernaut. My team won 3-1, although we were heavily out-shot in the stats. My buddy couldn’t figure out how his team lost. Before we left the press box, I checked the stats.

“What are you looking for?” he asked. I replied, “we beat you 9-3 in quality shots.”

“What are quality shots?” he asked. “It’s a stat I made up. It’s breakaways plus one timers,” I replied. “We scored all three of our goals that way. That’s how we won. We got more high-quality shots.”

Reading between the stats is the key to really analyzing how the game was won.

Cut to the 14th and 15th holes at Winged Foot. These are not the hardest holes on the course, but they are the hardest holes for the leaders and other serious contenders. Except for Phil Mickelson.

On Thursday, David Howell was minus-4 and three shots clear of the competition when he got to the 15th tee. A bogey triggered a four-shot bloodletting.

On Friday Ferrie rocketed to 3-under par in the blink of an eye and temporarily with a three-shot lead.

He double-bogeyed 14 and 15.

Steve Stricker, who ended up sleeping on the lead Friday night, also bogeyed 15. Contenders Colin Montgomerie, and Geoff Ogilvy bogeyed 14.

Let’s take a look at the contenders entering the final round. Ogilvy bogeyed 14. Stricker double-bogeyed 14. Ian Poulter bogeyed 14. Padraig Harrington bogeyed 15.

But Phil Mickelson birdied 14 and parred 15. That was a two-shot swing over the rest of the phield . . . oops, I mean field. In fact, through three rounds Phil played those holes a combined 1-under par.

The New Wedge

“I put in [my bag] a wedge that Roger Cleveland over at Calloway designed for me,” Mickelson noted with a grateful grin. “I called him up from Winged Foot and said ‘Roger, I need you to design a 64-degree wedge. I need it with a certain amount of bounce, I’ve got hit a lot of high bunker shots out of the sand,’ “ Mickelson continued. “I have used that club extensively and it has saved me a ton of shots. I hit the shot on 10 where it was a flop shot that went in the hole. Then I used it out of the bunker on 16 out of the plugged lie that flew up and went in.”

Mickelson believes if he goes on to victory, his fourth in the last 10 majors and his third in a row, it will be because of the new wedge. “The shot on 10 I couldn’t have done with my L-Wedge, I had to use the 64. If I’m able to be successful tomorrow, I will give credit to that one particular club.

Mickelson’s Major Experience

Mickelson experience in closing out major championships dominates all the other players’ on the leaderboard combined. Only Vijay Singh (at 5-over) is a multiple major winner, holding two PGA Championship wins and a Masters victory. Jim Furyk (also at plus-5) and Mike Weir (plus-6) are the only major winners within four shots of the lead.

By contrast, Ferrie has only two European Tour wins in five years and has missed the cut in close to half the events he’s started. 2006 has been particularly dismal until this weekend. In 15 starts he’s missed six cuts. In the events he finished he averaged a tie for 42nd place. His highest finish is a tie for 12th at the Volvo China Open, after that a tie for 25th at the HSBC Champions and the Algarve Portugal Open.

Similarly, Stricker was a lightning strike this weekend as well, averaging a tie for 54th places in his starts this year. His scoring average in U.S. Opens prior to Winged Foot is 2.5 strokes over par for his 10 starts.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.blogspot.com, Jay Flemma’s comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America’s great public golf courses (and whether they’re worth the money), Jay has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf – or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.