Still Not Sold on Phil

Earlier this week at our blog Waggle Room, I said that I simply could not believe that Phil Mickelson’s game was back until he played four good rounds in a golf tournament.  With Phil managing to defend his Northern Trust Open title at Riviera by a shot on Sunday, one might expect then that this column is going to pronounce my new-newfound belief in Lefty.

Well, no.  It will not.

I am not sold on Phil Mickelson right now.  Phil did not play four solid rounds this week.  He played two.  Mickelson had fantastic rounds on Thursday and Saturday, firing 63 and 62 respectively.  He was a shot off of the course record on Saturday.  If it was a 36 hole exhibition, Mickelson would have looked like a genius.

Unfortunately, they play four rounds at Riviera.  Mickelson’s second and final rounds were just awful.  They were about ten shots worse than the previous round.  That is the mark of a man who is inconsistent.  The final round really epitomized this with Mickelson starting four up, going two down, and winning by one.

Sure, Mickelson managed to birdie two of the final three holes to usurp his title back from Steve Stricker.  Stricker, though, was much steadier over four days.  A high round of 69 and a low round of 66 got Stricker within a shot of the victory.  Even worse is that all but two players who finished tied for 30th or better had a lower final round than Mickelson.

On one hand, it could be said that Mickelon’s dominance in the first three rounds afforded him the opportunity to waste away his lead.  Still, there is something very telling about a champion in a tournament who has a big lead and lets it go.  The word is inconsistent.

Phil Mickelson is inconsistent.  That’s no surprise.  It has been a hallmark of his career, save for a couple of magical seasons.  The old Ford promotional slogan of “What Will Phil Do Next?” may have been the most truthful advertising line in years.  It is a question that Phil himself probably wonders as he stands over some shots.

Mickelson sprayed it all over Riviera at times.  He plunked several drives into areas that used to be hazards.  He led one statistical category all week – eagles, with three.  Despite his two very low rounds, he finished fifteenth in birdies.  What saved Mickelson’s victory was that he did not make any score worse than bogey all week.  Every time that Mickelson got in trouble, he didn’t make it worse than it had to be.  Perhaps that is the real take away for Mickelson from Riviera, aside from his million dollar check.

When we were all talking in 2006 about the possibility of the Mickelslam, the remarks came in that Mickelson had finally tamed his own impulsive shotmaking personality.  He displayed patience, strategy, and course management skills that were required to win major championships.  At the same time, he was able to harness the power of his almost limitless skill in order to call up shots that he needed to be a major winner.
Since the incident at Winged Foot, Mickelson has decided to go further to the extreme of game management.  He tried to over-manage courses.  He played the US Open at Torrey Pines without a driver and with a bag of wedges.  Mickelson hired a second coach, Dave Pelz.  Pelz and he have gone too technical with their analysis of Mickelson’s game and the courses on which he plays.  For a guy with a reputation as a free wheeler, Mickelson came across more neurotic than daring for the past two seasons.

If Mickelson is going to keep winning with Tiger back in the field, he will have to rediscover 2006 Phil Mickelson.  That was the only Phil that could beat Tiger Woods.  If Post Winged Foot Mickelson keeps showing up at PGA Tour stops, then he will be soundly smacked down back to the days when we wondered – and were surprised – when Mickelson came through in the clutch.

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