Another major has come and gone for Phil Mickelson. At age 42, now combating arthritis, with a lot of distracting business interests—including minority ownership of the Padres—and with many family commitments, the question is will Lefty be able to reproduce the kind of golf that won him four majors, 40 PGA Tour victories and secured his place in the World Golf Hall of Fame?
“The first two days, I didn't strike it that well, but I fought hard to stay in there,” Mickelson said.
In the first round at this year’s PGA, Mickelson’s expertise in the short game saved him time and time again, and he was able to post a 73 out of what could have been a significantly higher score for someone less skilled. The second round, it was a 71, and he finished the day one back of the lead which was held by Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Carl Pettersson. He still had an outstanding chance for a victory.
“The last two days my game started to come around,” he insisted, although the score on the back nine Sunday, a 40, tells a different tale. However, when great champions realize they can no longer win, some of the fight goes out of them, and that is likely what happened in Mickelson’s case in the final holes today.
He played well early in the year, well enough to win at Pebble Beach and to get into a playoff at the Northern Trust Open with Keegan Bradley and eventual winner Bill Haas. But Mickelson’s fans expect more. They expect him to contend all the way in majors.
This week, the facts were that between the rain delay that halted play on Saturday and the last nine holes of the third round on Sunday, Mickelson did not keep pace with Rory McIlroy who posted a 67 to Mickelson’s 73. Mickelson had put himself eight shots back of the leader with 18 holes to play.
Although players have won majors from 10-shot deficits, it has never been without a collapse by the leader, and Rory McIlroy did not collapse although he had recently taken a beating in the headlines for taking time off with his girlfriend and for poor performances in recent months.
McIlroy, who won the Honda Classic earlier this year, is over his mini-slump, but Mickelson has not yet come out of his, if winning in the winter and not winning a major can be considered a slump. Mickelson is already looking forward.
“The last two days my game started to come around,” he said. “Even though the score wasn't there, I hit a lot of nice shots, and I'm optimistic now coming into the FedExCup.
I wish it had come a week earlier and I was firing on all cylinders coming into this week. But I was happy to see my ball‑striking started to come around.”
Certainly in his next outing, he could have use a more forgiving course than what Golf Digest has called the hardest course in the world. Yet, Mickelson did not complain about the location for the PGA.He embraced it.
“It's a great test of golf, because the wonderful thing about Kiawah here is that if you hit a good shot, you're rewarded, and you get a good result every time, and if you hit a bad shot, you have a bad result,” he said. “That sounds pretty straightforward, but that's not the way it's been lately. The last couple majors, you hit great shots, and they just turn out in horrendous spots, and that doesn't happen here. If you hit a good shot here at Kiawah you get rewarded, and I think the best players came to the top.”
In other words, he knew when he hit poor shots he was going to get pummeled.
Regarding Ryder Cup status, the decision won’t be made for another few weeks, and Mickelson said that did not factor into his play this week. He said there were some who could pass him on the points list this week, but he is more focused on getting his own game in shape.
“I feel much better about my game,” he added. “Even though the score wasn't there, I hit some good shots, and I was pretty pleased with how it started to come around. I had some opportunities to make a run. Unfortunately, I putted very poorly the last two days. But I'm looking forward to the upcoming stretch here with the FedExCup and the Ryder Cup, hopefully.”
Interestingly, there has only been one multiple-major winner between 2009 and this week, and that is Rory McIlroy (2011 US Open and 2012 PGA Championship). Mickelson’s last major was the 2010 Masters.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.