Publish date:

Lefty Gets It Right With a stirring win at the Colonial, Phil Mickelson proved he has all the shots

Ben Hogan was, famously, a man of few words, but he made every one
of them count. His reputed remark after winning the 1951 U.S.
Open at fearsome Oakland Hills--"I finally brought the monster to
its knees"--is part of golf lore. His 1990 advice to the earliest
Hogan (now tour players, a pithy "Watch out for buses,"
is, too. No less telling was his comment about Fort Worth's
Colonial Country Club, where a larger-than-life bronze statue of
Hogan overlooks the 18th green. "A straight ball," he said, "will
get you in more trouble at Colonial than any course I know."

Colonial's tree-lined and doglegged holes make it the ultimate
shotmaker's course, requiring players to attempt all sorts of
shots in all sorts of directions with all sorts of trajectories.
The first three tee shots call for, in order, a slight fade, a
high monster fade and either a hard slinging hook around or a
moon shot over the trees. Hogan, who won the Colonial five times,
was the shotmaker nonpareil. If you played with him at Shady
Oaks, his home course only a few minutes up the road, and didn't
play the shot that was called for--say, a fade around the corner
on a sharp dogleg right--you were not invited to play with him
again. Hogan didn't just believe in shotmaking; he insisted upon

These days, shotmaking supposedly has gone the way of persimmon
woods and orange balls. Perimeter-weighted irons and metal woods
make the ball go straighter. Many young Tour players have
one-dimensional games and most Tour courses are long and soft.
"Just hit it as high and as hard as you can," says Jim Furyk. But
Colonial is different. It's a slalom course between towering oaks
and has tough bunkers and restored greens. If last week's
MasterCard Colonial proved anything, it was that shotmaking is
not a lost art.

Start with Phil Mickelson, who stole the tournament with a
seven-under 63 on Sunday and replaced Tiger Woods as the game's
hottest player. Mickelson, who lost in a playoff the week before,
now has as many victories this year (three) as Woods has, and
Sunday's was dramatic. Playing three groups ahead of the leaders,
Mickelson was seven shots back with nine holes to play. He
birdied five of those holes to finish at 12-under 268, then sat
back and watched the leader, Stewart Cink, turn into a verb. Cink
needed to par the last four holes to win his second tournament of
the season, but he bogeyed three of them and tied for second
with--oh, no, not again!--Davis Love III.

The book on Mickelson is that he's not effective in the wind and
doesn't fade the ball well. Hmmm. Maybe someone can explain the
67 he shot in last Thursday's minigale? Mickelson is also much
improved at moving the ball right to left. Already a genius
around the greens, he has built a solid base on a game that
appears to be major-ready.

One more thing. The guy is not afraid to create a shot, Mr.
Hogan. On Sunday, as Mickelson stood in the 11th fairway, he was
as far from the green (292 yards) as he was from being in
contention. He figured if he could blast a ripping hook with his
three-wood, he might roll the ball onto the green. He ripped a
hook, all right. "Just awful," Mickelson said. "I snap-hooked it
right into the hazard." Mickelson's ball was headed for the
Trinity River and a bogey--or worse--when it hit one of Colonial's
trees and kicked back into the fairway, 90 yards from the green.
Mickelson dropped a wedge shot to within four feet and made the
putt for birdie. He didn't pull off the outlandish three-wood,
but just trying such a gutsy play might have made the stone-faced
Hogan smile. O.K., maybe not.

Certainly Hogan would have appreciated Mickelson's final stroke,
a 30-foot birdie putt from the back of the 18th green. Mickelson
was two shots behind Cink and thought he needed a birdie to have
any chance of forcing a playoff. The putt was in long before
Mickelson pumped his left fist.

That pure stroke was no accident. Feeling that his putting was
slightly off, Mickelson was the last man off the practice green
the night before. He kept at it until, putting from 10 spots in a
circle around the cup, he holed 100 three-footers in a row. If he
missed one, he started over. Mickelson says that if he's putting
well, it takes about 20 minutes to make his 100. On Saturday he
needed 45 minutes. (The first time he tried, the drill lasted
four hours.) "When I make 100 in a row, I know my stroke is where
it needs to be," he said on Sunday. "That paid off. I had a
really good putting day today."

Even though Cink dropped this tournament as if he had been handed
a hot branding iron, he plays a variety of shots, too. He likes
to fade his long irons and woods and draw his middle and short
irons. "I love playing at Colonial because it's a precision
course," says the 27-year-old Cink, who was a three-time
All-America at Georgia Tech. "Hitting it both ways off the tee
here separates the true players. You can't get away with hitting
a fade on 18, for example; otherwise there's a huge tree in your
way. There are so many holes where you have to fit your tee shot
inside the trees. It's great."

Knute Rockne would have killed for the kind of Saturday that Cink
had last week. Since Friday's second round was suspended because
of thunderstorms, Cink played 31 holes on Saturday, finishing off
a 64 and following with a 65. The highlight reel shows Cink in a
fairway bunker on the 15th hole, 160 yards from the pin with a
tree blocking his way. He aims left of the green, where a creek
lurks dangerously, and slices a risky eight-iron shot around the
tree. His ball comes to rest within three feet of the hole. "That
was probably the best shot I've hit this year," said Cink, who
hit plenty of good ones down the stretch while overtaking Ernie
Els to win last month's MCI Classic. Memo to self: Draft Cink in
the U.S. Open office pool. Memo to IRS: We don't really have an
office pool and last year's winner didn't really pocket $500.

David Toms, a three-time winner on Tour, is like Cink in that his
Q rating is lower than Bob Knight's boiling point. Toms is also a
shotmaker who tries to work the ball from the safe side of the
green toward the pin, no matter which side of the green the hole
is on. Toms, 33, was an All-America at LSU and the SEC player of
the year in 1989. Only now, in his eighth full season on Tour, is
he blossoming into a player to be reckoned with. He tied for
fourth at Colonial, fading slightly after sharing the
second-round lead with Love. "If you don't bomb the ball," says
Toms, who ranks 76th in driving distance, "you've got to be able
to play shots." Toms can. What's his natural shot? "Depends where
the pin is," he says.

Another shotmaker on the rise is Jim Furyk. Maybe you thought he
was the second coming of Bruce Lietzke, a guy who does nothing
but fade the ball because of the funky loop in his swing. Furyk,
30, threw in a few right-to-left shots during his
come-from-way-back victory at Doral in March, and handled
Colonial last week, tying for eighth. "I hadn't played with Jim
in a while and I was impressed with his shot selection, his
intelligence and the way he worked the ball both ways," said
Corey Pavin, who was paired with Furyk for the first two rounds
at Colonial. "He was so under control." Furyk, who has won five
times and has 14 top 17 finishes in the last 18 majors, is
another player to watch next month in the U.S. Open at Pebble
Beach, where working the ball will be critical.

The smart money, though, will probably be on Mickelson, a
Californian who won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am two
years ago. He's primed for a breakthrough in the majors and would
have won last year's Open at Pinehurst if Payne Stewart hadn't
magically one-putted five of the last six greens. "I've started
to do well consistently in the majors," says Mickelson, who tied
for sixth at the Masters, "but I need to come through with a
victory. That's the last hurdle for me."

Hogan would no doubt agree.


COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Players like Cink enjoy Colonial because "there are so many holes where you have to fit your tee shots inside the trees."