Phil Mickelson has always played golf with reckless abandon.
His riverboat-gambler style of play has earned him four major championships and 41 wins overall in his Hall of Fame career. He has earned a legion of fans by playing like a guy going for broke each and every Sunday.
It is also the main reason he has become inconsistent on the PGA Tour.
Three times this year, Mickelson has finished no worse than third. He won at Phoenix on the first weekend of February, tied for third five weeks later at Doral and finished in third by himself a month later at Quail Hollow.
He backed those great performances up the next time by finishing in a tie for 60th at Pebble Beach and missing the cut at both Bay Hill and Sawgrass.
How can he be so on one week and so off the next? Well, Mickelson’s problems are twofold.
Mickelson plays the same way at 42 as he did at 22.
At 22, you can power your way through courses regardless of where you put the tee shot because you are going to have the speed and strength to hit it out of any lie. Chances are you are going to put your approach on the green and two-putt for par.
At his age, it does not really work that way.
Mickelson is 168th this season in driving accuracy, hitting the fairway 53.68 percent of the time. In turn, he is 53rd in getting on the green in regulation at 67.36 percent.
In order to score, you have to find greens. By not adjusting his game to trade a little length for better accuracy, Mickelson finds himself in trouble off the tee too often and spends too much mental energy trying to save par.
His other problem is the putter.
From inside 15 feet, his make rate is 44.61 percent, good enough for 81st on tour. When he gives himself a chance to score or save par, he does himself no favors with the flat blade.
For years, his putting could bail him out of whatever mess he got himself into off the tee, but right now, he is grinding too hard to stay that consistent.
He is still a master with a wedge in his hand, but, by not adjusting his overall game plan, he is making a couple of unforced errors a round off the tee—quickly killing whatever momentum he has built.
Mickelson’s imagination with his short game is still jaw dropping. He can see any shot from any lie he is in and execute it. He has saved more pars from horrible lies in his career than anyone not named Tiger Woods.
On the other hand, Mickelson has never fully made the transition in his career from being a power player to a position one. If he hit just one more fairway per round, he would increase his accuracy to roughly 60.8 percent.
One more fairway means one less scramble for par. By Sunday, those three scrambles saved could mean three saved strokes and a much better position to go for the win.
*Statistics courtesy of pgatour.com and are current through May 28.