The counter to Phil Mickelson's Hall of Fame skill is his innate ability to self-destruct. Each is equally compelling, Phil the Thrill also the human train wreck that does not allow us to look away.
ESPN did a superb job of showing the train wreck in the first round of the British Open on Thursday, even capturing his running commentary without its announcers talking over him.
That hasn't always been the case. Last year, ESPN was criticized for its talent talking over what sounded like an interesting exchange between Mickelson and caddie Jim Mackay over club selection. This time, it allowed the viewers to hear him discuss his travails at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
For instance, at the third hole, with his ball having disappeared into thick rough, Mickelson was heard discussing with a rules official what his options might be. "You know, I can't even see it where I'm swinging," he said. "Is there any rule about that? I mean, standing over it I can't even see it."
He was given no relief and slashed it back to the fairway and eventually made bogey.
On the seventh hole, from the left hay, he and Mackay were heard discussing options, including Mickelson's concern that were he to attempt to slash it out he might hurt himself. He chose to play it out sideways and hit it across the fairway into more rough. He made double-bogey there.
On the eighth hole, when a search party was required to help him locate his ball after a fairway bunker shot that traveled no more than four or five yards went missing (see photo above), viewers were allowed to eavesdrop on both the search, then the aftermath as Mickelson wondered whether he'd get relief from his ball having been imbedded.
He was granted no such relief and had to take an unplayable lie, though he salvaged bogey.
Mickelson was "three swings away from having a decent round," Azinger said. Instead, he shot a three-over par 73 that puts him nine shots behind leader Adam Scott.
Boomer, Phil and two gloves
ESPN's Paul Azinger invoked the late Percy Boomer, a renowned golf instructor from England, in explaining Mickelson's difficulties on the back nine, when he played with gloves on both hands to counter the drop in temperature.
"Percy Boomer made a comment a hundred years ago, the hands are like spark plugs on a car. When timed incorrectly they could backfire," Azinger said. "When I see a guy put on a second glove and he's got some 20 to 30,000 hours invested in practicing with one glove I tend to wonder if his hand hasn't backfired on him a couple times today."
'The clock's ticking'
Azinger had this to say at the outset of Tiger Woods' round on Thursday morning:
"One thing to watch for today is how Tiger starts. His 74 wins, he's only had four rounds over par the first day and come back to win, which is a staggering statistic. Three of those came in majors. He knows the clock's ticking and it's time to get after it."
'Another golf course that hates me'
The trials of Sergio Garcia were discussed by Mike Tirico and Azinger early in the broadcast.
"Garcia at times has been his own worst enemy in so many ways," Tirico said. "He felt it was not him, it was the golf gods against him."
"He said, 'I'm dealing with forces unseen,'" Azinger replied. "If he said that out loud you wonder what he might say to himself. Player self-talk is critical to their success in their career...You just don't want to be your own worst enemy. I remember Watson with Woody Austin when he beat himself over the head one or two times. Watson gave him some advice: 'It's hard enough to have friends out here you might want to be a friend to yourself.'"
Golf Digest's Dan Jenkins, aka the Ancient Twitterer, typically summed it up best on Twitter: "Already eight strokes behind. Me. Sergio. Another golf course that hates me."
It's over, Lee
Did Lee Westwood play himself out of the championship on the back nine on Thursday? Azinger suggested he has.
"He's bogeyed four of the last five holes, which is pretty surprising," Azinger said. "Disappointing start for Westwood. Probably knocked himself out of the tournament here in the first round."
Westwood shot a three-over par 73, which, if too deep a hole from which to climb eliminates Mickelson, as well.
Azinger on 2010 Open Championship winner Louis Oosthuizen: "I asked him if he watched our coverage after he won the tournament. Said, 'Yes, I did. I was enjoying listening to you butcher my surname.'"
For two days in 2010, Azinger tortured Oosthuizen's last name. On Saturday's broadcast, he said, "Oost, Oosthaven, Oosthazen, I'm sorry, how embarrassing."
On Sunday's telecast, he called him Oosten-hazen before correcting himself.
Alliss in wonderland
"For many years there were two or three families of hares on the course here," Peter Alliss said during his daily stint with ESPN. "You used to see them when the Open came around. They were as big as a spaniel dog...I don't know what happened to them."
"How did you know they were related?" Terry Gannon asked.
"One of them had a smile on his face," Alliss said.
-- John Strege