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Phil Mickelson nearly joins '59' club

If Phil Mickelson believes the big-number check he cuts to Uncle Sam each year is unfair, what is there to make of the harsh horseshoe he had to endure Thursday afternoon in Arizona?

The ball was absolutely in the hole, and how it stayed out will be discussed whenever the subject of shooting 59 is broached.

Lefty was about to become just the sixth player in PGA Tour history to go so low, only to see his putt on the ninth green (his 18th) at the TPC Scottsdale lip out.

If a player could be disappointed about shooting 60, that would be Mickelson.

"I'm kind of mortified that didn't go in," Mickelson told the Golf Channel afterward. "You just don't get those chances very often."

Still, Mickelson had to be thrilled about the golf he played during the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and you can bet PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was clicking his heels somewhere, at least for a few hours.

At the same tournament where it came to light that one of the game's Hall of Famers, Vijay Singh, had admitted to taking a banned substance -- which possibly could lead to a suspension -- there was Mickelson, another Hall of Famer, turning the talk back to golf.

Mickelson made 11 birdies just a few days after he couldn't consistently find the clubface at Torrey Pines, where he barely made the cut and was still feeling the sting from the reaction to his comments about the "drastic" changes he was considering in his life due to his high tax bracket.

What a strange yet exciting time it has been in golf of late.

First Tiger Woods goes halfway around the world, only to commit a rare rules violation that leads to a 2-stroke penalty and a shocking missed cut in Abu Dhabi -- the same place where No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy, wielding his new Nike clubs, also went home early due to poor play.

A little more than a week later, Woods was holding the trophy at Torrey Pines, his weekend off a memory after having captured his 75th PGA Tour title.

Earlier at the same venue in San Diego, Mickelson felt compelled to apologize for making public remarks at the Humana Challenge concerning the high rate of tax he now pays, due to a tax increase in his home state of California and, well ... because as a multimillion-dollar earner, he is subject to a high tax bill.

Then he's firing at flags, making birdies and crediting his new Callaway driver -- the one he put in his bag this week -- for helping him get the ball in play off the tee.

Interesting, too, that a good bit of this golf news involves three longtime adversaries in Woods, Singh and Mickelson, two Hall of Famers and one just waiting to be old enough for induction. Singh, 49, and Mickelson, 42, have combined for one less PGA Tour victory than Woods, with the trio accounting for 149.

For Mickelson, the 60 was the second of his career, matching the score he shot on the same TPC Scottsdale course in 2005. He went on to win that tournament, and no doubt will set his sights on winning for the first time since the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for his 40th PGA Tour title nearly a year ago.

But first, it is tough not to think of what could have been in Arizona. There was Mickelson, walking after that birdie putt that should have dropped. There was longtime caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay, falling to his knees on the green in disbelief. Playing companion Rickie Fowler held his hands over his head, stunned, the biggest gallery in golf gasping rather than partying.

And Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, David Duval, Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby were left alone in the PGA Tour's "59" club.

"I was thinking 59 back on 10, after the [first] nine," said Mickelson, who went out in 29 strokes. "You kidding me? I was thinking it the whole time."

It's still hard to believe that number didn't go down on his scorecard.