In Phil Mickelson’s illustrious career, he had never won a World Golf Championship event. That fact was among the many knocks on Mickelson, particularly compared to Tiger Woods – whose shadow Mickelson has been in for over a decade.
Mickelson had never won at Doral, either, though he had stared down the aforementioned world number one on this very course in 2005. The epic battle resulted in another Woods victory, but stands as one of the few instances in which Mickelson challenged Woods in a showdown.
This week, though, Woods was still experiencing ring rust and was never a contender. Mickelson, on the other hand, was in charge from wire-to-wire as much as Lefty could be. Locked in a battle of who would lose the championship first, Mickelson found a way to survive against Nick Watney and a surging Jim Furyk to win the CA Championship.
Per usual, Mickelson did not win pretty. He made strategic errors that had him in almost every conceivable hazard this weekend. He played shots right-handed (quite well, in fact). Mickelson was forced into a host of awkward bunker shots and greenside chips to get out of trouble.
Fortunately for Mickelson, he has the innate talent to be able to get out of the trouble that he causes himself time and again. Nick Watney told reporters in a press conference that he admired Mickelson’s ability to have the same focus on any shot, regardless of the outcome of the prior shot. That ability was on full display during the week as Mickelson simultaneously ravaged and was ravaged by the Blue Monster.
Mickelson led the field in a number of categories, including birdies and was second in putts per round. In other words, some of the stats made Mickelson’s performance look seamless. Other revealed the truth about Mickelson’s game. He was near the bottom of the field in pars and bogeys. Those stats are demonstrative of the classic Mickelson approach to golf.
He is an aggressive player that is unapologetic about his strategic and mental blunders because he knows that he has the talent to bail himself out when needed. Keeping his foot on the pedal is the best way for Mickelson to compete. The results may vary wildly from shot to shot, but the aggressive approach is the one that yields the best end results.
Since the meltdown at Winged Foot in 2006, Mickelson had become demonstrably less aggressive on the course. He was overthinking through the round and in his physical and mental preparation for tournaments. The culmination of this self-imposed psyche out came at the US Open at Torrey Pines when Mickelson opted to not carry a driver on one of the longest major championship layouts ever played.
In 2009, Mickelson appears to have reverted back to the player that has a raw and exciting approach to tournament golf. For all of the polish and poise that Woods shows in his wins, Mickelson is at his best when it appears that he has no control whatsoever. Before Mickelson went on to win three major championships, he said that he would win them his way and playing his style. He may not have won two Masters titles and a PGA Championship with the exact same aggressive style that he showed this week, but what Mickelson showed at Doral is a lot more similar to the best of Mickelson than the one that was moving sideways in his career in the past two and a half seasons.
Butch Harmon, Mickelson’s teacher, has said that Mickelson is playing some of the best golf he has ever seen him play since working with him. The results seem to be indicated that Harmon is right. They also seem to show that the Phil Mickelson we know is back and ready to become a major champion again.