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Sweet Sixteen


Of all the legendary holes on the PGA Tour schedule — the island green, No. 17, at TPC Sawgrass and the final hole of Amen Corner, No. 13 Azalea, at Augusta National are the first that come to my mind — there is absolutely (or is it Absolut-ly?) nothing like No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale, where drinks mix, coeds mingle and the crowd is rowdier than anywhere else on Tour.

The 162-yard, par-3 amphitheatre packs a 20,000-plus crowd into a stadium setting more reminiscent of a Florida-Georgia college football "cocktail party" than a golf-clapping PGA event. A crisp 8- or 9-iron on the green is rewarded by a high-fiving, rowdy uproar. A chunker off line will be booed, heckled and harassed by young and old Phoenicians alike. But that is all part of the Mojito-fueled mystique of the sweet 16.

On Saturday, Arizona State alum and two-time Phoenix Open champ Phil Mickelson went through the routine roller coaster from the crowd — drawing "We want Phil!" chants before his tee shot landed in the fat of the green, causing "Safe-ty! Safe-ty!" heckles from the crowd.

But that only set the stage for "Phil the Thrill" to delight the masses, which he did — getting arguably the loudest cheers of the day after draining a 30-foot birdie putt.

"It was great. It’s Saturday of the Phoenix Open. It’s always fun. There’s a lot of people out here. I don’t think there’s a shot I wanted to make more — other than a major championship — than that putt on 16. I wanted to make that so bad," said Mickelson.

"Sixteen is great, it is really great. The players love it, and the fans are so much fun. It’s the hole that I want to hit my best shot of the day on. It’s the hold that I want to make a two badly. And today I hit just an okay iron shot to about 35 feet. But that putt went in. And it was an awesome feeling. It’s so much fun to see the crowd erupt there."

Lefty sits at 10-under through 36 holes, just four shots behind leader Tommy Gainey. Despite oddly cold conditions that have forced frost delays, the crowd has still congregated at TPC Scottsdale on Sunday Bowl weekend. Saturday’s attendance was an estimated 131,627 — up roughly 10,000 fans from last season.

Although the crowd for Super Sunday is usually not as large as the Saturday swell, there will be plenty of fans pregaming at the Phoenix Open before heading home to catch the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium. Everyone has an opinion on the big game, including Mickelson — who is a well-known gambler on and off the course.

"It’s going to be a great game. I like both teams. They’re both great teams," explained Mickelson, who provided insightful Super Bowl pregame commentary following his round on Saturday.

"But I think Green Bay is going to win. I think they’re going to dominate. Aaron Rodgers is playing so good and Pittsburgh has always struggled against a spread offense. And I also think that Green Bay’s defensive line is going to own them (without injured Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey)."