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Throwback Thursday

Justin Leonard made the perfect comparison to what it's like battling against Phil Mickelson (and a rowdy home crowd)

February 04, 2021

Twenty-five years ago, Phil Mickelson and Justin Leonard produced some of the loudest roars ever at TPC Scottsdale. Well, Mickelson, mostly.

The 1996 Phoenix Open featured an epic battle between the two young American stars. Mickelson, then 25, had won six PGA Tour titles, including one while still an amateur at nearby Arizona State. So he was already a legend in those parts.

The 23-year-old Leonard, meanwhile, was looking for his first win. Sadly, for him, it didn’t come that day. And as he found out, it’s tough to take on Mickelson—especially when Phil’s playing in front of his (adopted) home crowd.

Leonard had his hands on the trophy a few times, but Mickelson made a tricky up and down on No. 18 in regulation, birdied the hole again in the playoff after Leonard had stuck his approach to gimme range, and then poured in a 20-footer to extend the playoff on the second extra hole. A birdie by Phil on the third extra hole finally gave him the win. Earlier in the week, the PGA Tour shared some clips from that memorable day:

And when someone asked if anyone was rooting for Leonard other than his caddie, the (eventual) 12-time PGA Tour winner offered the perfect response:

Poor guy. Although, at least Leonard’s caddie was rooting for him. I’m not even sure Stewart Cink’s caddie wanted him to beat a 59-year-old Tom Watson at the 2009 Open.

Leonard, now a Golf Channel analyst, also provided a couple funny comments on how he used to wear his hat and why he took it off before the missed putt that ultimately cost him the tournament:

It’s OK, Justin. We all have our fashion faux pas. And you wound up having quite the playing career anyway with those 12 wins, including a claret jug the following year.

Mickelson wound up winning two more Phoenix Opens, most recently in 2013. But he won’t be adding to that total this week because he’s playing in the European Tour’s Saudi International instead. For anyone worried about possibly tangling with the former Sun Devil at TPC Scottsdale late on Sunday, that’s good news.