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Freebies are okay . . . but watching Lefty at work can be worth the entry fee alone

You can't beat a bit of corporate hospitality .

Phil Mickelson attempts a right-hand shot to escape a bush at the 13th, which he triple bogeyed. Picture: Getty Sport
Phil Mickelson attempts a right-hand shot to escape a bush at the 13th, which he triple bogeyed. Picture: Getty Sport

. . or a shameless freebie as this correspondent prefers to call it. As the rank and file queued glumly like a row of mannequins preparing to be dumped into a skip, we moochers waltzed serenely into the venue to become joyously cocooned in the mouth-watering opulence of the private box, stuffing our faces with spicy things on skewers and drowning ourselves in the kind of liberal pourings of wine not seen since Dionysus arranged a happy hour at his local. At least we remained fully clothed.

Thanks to the good golfing folk at Scottish Hydro, Top Gear Live was the junket in question. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Aston Martins - think of the car park during the Lochwinnoch Captains & Secretaries Centenary Quaich and you get the idea. It was high-octane, explosive stuff. Rather like watching Phil Mickelson play golf.

In Abu Dhabi at the weekend, Lefty didn't quite get it right but for those who paid the price of admission - unlike this scribbler at his complimentary shindig - it must have been worth it.

He was trundling along in the slow lane after an opening 73, got his foot to the floor with a quite magical 63 during Saturday's third round and then saw the wheels come off his title tilt with a crippling triple bogey on the 13th hole of his closing 18, before mounting a spirited late salvage operation. It was classic Mickelson.

The 43-year-old, tying for the lead at the time, hoiked his drive on that 13th into a bush. With hardly any room to take an 'unplayable', the sensible option would have been to return to the tee. Big Phil doesn't do sensible, of course. He flipped a 4-iron on its head and, crouching down with arms outstretched like someone curiously prodding at a dead lizard in the undergrowth, he tried a right-handed shot only to make a double-hit, incur a one stroke penalty and eventually rack up a seven. "I've done some crazy s*** during my career," reflected this golfing have-a-go-hero.

The grinning Californian had to settle for a share of second place but, for those of us peering on, even his losses can be our gains. As a golfing entertainer, there are not many finer. His decision on the 13th hole in the desert may have been spectacularly ill advised but you wouldn't want Mickelson to change. His sense of adventure, artistry and downright cavalier recklessness remains a joy to behold as he courts risk and reward with a fearless disregard that used to be adopted by Evel Knievel while he accelerated towards a row of buses. We all remember that eye-poppingly audacious shot he conjured through the trees on the 13th hole at Augusta en route to Masters victory in 2010.

And it is this willingness to throw caution to the wind, and take those daring chances in the quest for the extraordinary and the magnificent, which tend to produce the magical moments that remain seared on the memory.

Last July at Castle Stuart, the five-time major winner was coasting to Scottish Open victory but raced his first putt on the final green some six-feet past the cup and missed the return to drop, bewilderingly, into a play-off. It was all part of the theatre, of course. From a frightfully tight lie some 45 yards from the green at the first extra hole, Mickelson dinked a wedge up and over the rise to within a foot and claimed the bounty. A week later, he dared and won over a fiercely difficult Muirfield with a rousing back-nine charge that gave him a maiden Open Championship crown.

In his first event of the year, Mickelson has given himself plenty of reasons for optimism moving into a campaign of major significance. The US Open returns to Pinehurst in June, the venue where Mickelson's heartache in the second major on the golfing calendar began some 15 years ago. Since being pipped to the title by the late Payne Stewart in 1999, Mickelson has finished runner-up a total of six times but, as he attempts to complete the career grand slam by adding the US Open to the Open, the US PGA and his three Masters green jackets, perhaps the stars are aligning in 2014.

The day after the US Open ends, Mickelson will celebrate his 44th birthday. It would be fitting if he toasted that occasion with the one trophy that has so far eluded him.

Mickelson always enters a new season with enthusiasm bubbling like a glass of freshly poured champagne. Will he get the cork out of the major bottle again in 2014? If he does, then he will do it in his own inimitable style. "We're all along for the ride," he said at the weekend. "We're up, we're down. We see where it goes."

We may as well strap ourselves in and enjoy it.

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