Commentary

Right not right for lefty Phil Mickelson

Updated: January 19, 2014, 4:41 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

A day earlier, when he tried to pull off an unwise shot and his caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, cringed as he has done often over a 20-plus-year partnership, Phil Mickelson could only shrug in that Phil-being-Phil way that has endeared him to the masses in his Hall of Fame career.

"It's just what I do," Mickelson said.

[+] EnlargePhil Mickelson
MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty ImagesAfter finishing tied for second at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, a frustrated Phil Mickelson will travel to California for this week's Farmers Insurance Open, his 2014 PGA Tour debut.

Of course, there he was on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, doing again what he does. And it proved disastrous.

Lefty tried to hit a shot righty.

Leading the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship by 1 stroke, Mickelson attempted to play a shot right-handed from beneath a bush at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club's par-4 13th hole. In making a swipe at the ball, Mickelson hit it twice -- both count as strokes -- and moved it just 3 feet.

The result was a triple-bogey 7, and although Mickelson birdied three of the final five holes, he came up a shot short against Pablo Larrazabal.

The circus shot by Mickelson was the product of bad judgment followed by poor execution.

But that's Lefty, exhibiting the good and bad that has come to mark his career.

"I enjoy challenging myself to hit shots," Mickelson said afterward. "Sometimes I pull them off, and sometimes I don't. This week I had a little of both."

It brought to mind the Phil fiasco at the 2012 Masters, where his tee shot at the par-3 fourth hole during the final round came to rest well left of the green in some bushes. That time, he had little choice but to try to play the ball -- and he took two right-handed swings to extract it, leading to a killer triple-bogey 6. It was his second triple-bogey of the tournament, and he ended up missing the playoff later won by Bubba Watson by 2 strokes.

It is easy to say now, but had Mickelson simply taken an unplayable lie penalty Sunday in Abu Dhabi when he came upon his ball, he might be holding the trophy right now. The double hit essentially cost him the tournament.

And you could say the same for Rory McIlroy in regard to what happened on Saturday. Had McIlroy -- and his caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald -- possessed a keener appreciation for the rulebook, he would have taken more care to make sure he didn't stand on the line marking ground under repair. Taking total relief from any obstruction is pretty common stuff. McIlroy didn't, and it cost him 2 strokes. He lost by 1.

Two years ago at the same tournament, McIlroy was penalized 2 strokes during the second round for removing sand from his line of play -- he was off the green -- at the ninth hole. He finished 1 stroke behind winner Robert Rock.

So that's two out of three years for McIlroy with a 2-stroke penalty costing him potential victory in the United Arab Emirates.

Nonetheless, both players left knowing there are some excellent signs in their games. McIlroy missed the cut at this tournament a year ago, the start of a long, agonizing season. Now he's started with a near miss plagued by a dumb penalty. After a week off, he'll play the Omega Dubai Desert Classic before heading to America, likely for the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

For Mickelson, he certainly provided drama to a sponsor paying him to be there. He admitted his game was rusty, and there were certainly signs of that in his opening-round 73 that was remarkable for its un-Phil-like qualities: 17 straight pars followed by a bogey and no birdies.

Then, after barely making the cut, Mickelson rattled off a remarkable 63 on Saturday that included just seven fairways hit but only 22 putts. He made nine birdies, an eagle and two bogeys.

That put him just 2 strokes out of the lead heading to Sunday, and despite the calamity at the 13th hole, Mickelson still shot 69.

Asked whether he had ever double-hit a ball, Mickelson quipped: "I can't remember, but I know I have, because I have done a lot of crazy s---."

Talk about understatement.

Now Mickelson, 43, heads back to the United States, where he will make his 2014 PGA Tour debut this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, followed by the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Tiger Woods will also be in San Diego to defend his Farmers title on a course -- Torrey Pines -- on which he has won eight times, including his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open.

If the No. 1-ranked Woods shows the kind of form exhibited by Mickelson and McIlroy -- which we've already seen by No. 2 Adam Scott -- and it is maintained by that formidable foursome, well, we're in for some kind of 2014 -- penalty strokes and brain locks included.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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