Phil fooled us again

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The problem with taking Phil Mickelson too seriously is that if you're not careful, you'll actually start believing in what he says.

The trick is not to listen because he's so thoroughly talked himself into the righteousness of whatever it is that he's got in his head that he's sure to get you to drink the Kool Aid, too.

He's like the Tony Robbins of golf. There are few people who think they're as smart as Phil thinks he is and at the same time are so willing to share with you everything they think they know about a subject.

Whether it's why having two drivers in the bag is a winning strategy -- followed, of course, by the wisdom of having no driver at all -- or playing practice rounds away from the venue of a major so as to not get too burned out on the place or (my personal favorite) the contraption he brought to the '07 U.S. Open at Oakmont to measure the speed of different parts of the greens surfaces.

It's not enough to know the speed of the green by the old-fashioned stimp device. It was imperative, Phil said, to discover the speed of each sector of each green. So he and his golf geek guru Dave Pelz spent countless hours trudging their machine to each green and taking meticulous readings.

Turned out that knowledge was so invaluable it helped Mickelson to 11 over par through two rounds and his first missed cut at a major in eight years.

So, yes, you could say I'm a trifle burned out on Mickelson's genius.

But, still, I have to confess that before the Farmers Insurance Open he really had me sold on the New Phil.

Soon to turn 40, I thought he'd finally outgrown his goofball ways and committed himself to living up to his potential. Because the man has talent, serious talent.

When he's at his mercurial best, only Tiger Woods can hope to hang with him and, lately, he's even lowered Tiger's colors. Mickelson beat Woods in back-to-back events (Tour Championship and HSBC Champions in China) at the end of last season.

After Phil won at Atlanta, Johnny Miller even suggested there would be a new world No. 1 in 2010.

Now at the time I have to admit that, like much of what comes out of Johnny's mouth, I took this with a proverbial grain of salt but last week I started to think that maybe he's more of a savant than I've ever given him credit for being.

Now the thing with being the top dog is that you've got to be consistent. Woods, no matter how he's playing, can always be counted on to find a way to be in the mix at every tournament he enters. He's a force of nature in that way.

Mickelson, not so much.

Last year he won at Hogan's Alley in LA by shooting 63-72-62-72.

I mean, who does that? Who shoots 15-under to win at Riviera with two rounds over par? Phil does. In fact, it's vintage Phil. The guy's a high-wire act. It's always an adventure.

But after listening to him last week as he prepared to make his season debut, I really thought there was no way the New Phil was going to lose at Torrey Pines.

For one, there was too much at stake.

With Tiger still licking his (self-inflicted) wounds, the stage was set for Mickelson to take over his throne, figuratively if not yet literally.

And there would've been something poetic about Phil winning at his home track given Woods -- who also has sentimental boyhood memories of Torrey Pines -- has won there seven times in 12 events, including that famous U.S. Open win.

But what really convinced me was how compelling Mickelson was about the state of his game and how excited he was to be starting the season. He was so compelling, he even threw a little smack at Woods in his pre-tournament news conference.

"I expect this year, with or without (Woods), to be one of the best years of my career," he said.

Looking at the watered-down field at the Farmers Insurance Open, how could we not have given Phil the W?

Seven-under par after two rounds, he was perfectly perched. I have to admit to feeling a little uneasy when he started hitting it all over the map on Saturday, but he still scraped together a two-under par round of 70, so no real damage done.

Plus, I figured he was distracted after being called a small "c" cheat for using a 20-year-old wedge he really had no reason to be using. I mean, Phil, you're saying you don't spin the ball enough? Why draw unnecessary attention to yourself? Unless the wedge is in his bag for other reasons?

I'll admit to feeling a little queasy when he decided to fly in swing coach Butch Harmon from Florida. Now that was weird, even for Phil.

Their range session, though, seemed to have gone well and now I'm thinking it was a masterstroke by the New Phil.

He was only four back and who really thought Ryuji Imada was going to hold that third-round lead?

Yet something was lost in translation between the range and the first tee.

Phil opened with three straight bogeys. He couldn't hit it straight, couldn't make a putt and limped in with a 73 to finish 19th.,

Yet, as always, he had a smile for the camera and a wave for his fans.

"I'm excited about next week because my game is feeling not as rusty as it looks," he said.

In other words, same old Phil.