Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson has gotten his 2015 season off to an inauspicious start. The 45-year-old has looked like a shadow of his former self, while missing the cut at his last two tournaments.
Over his last four rounds at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Farmers Insurance Open, Mickelson has gone lower than 70 just once (69) and has shot an average of 72.75. The 42-time winner on the PGA Tour has blamed his putting for the drop in quality of play.
“It’s very frustrating for me right now,” Mickelson told reporters after missing the cut at the Farmer’s Insurance Open. “I felt very ready for the start of the year. But my putting is pathetic right now. If I can’t get it back to my putting levels in 2013, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Mickelson has always been a bit of a maverick on the course. He’s known for Herculean efforts, pulling rabbits out of hats, or any other superlative involving things that seem like magic.
(See below for just a few examples of his virtuoso golf shots)
video via geoffshac
vine via Bobby Brown
vine via Mark Gehrke
Lately, the magic has been missing. The story has been a little lost to the casual golf fan and to the larger sports media because of Tiger Woods' well-documented struggles. The most recent golf set aside, even the 2014 Ryder Cup was an unmitigated disaster for Mickelson, who played poorly and then got into a public quibble with U.S. captain Tom Watson.
But, just as with Tiger, Mickelson has proven over the years that he is impossible to write off. And to be fair, Mickelson seems just a fraction away from competing, while Tiger (post shooting an 82) seems miles off from where he wants to be. It’s not hard to imagine Mickelson improving his performance with the flat stick and jumping right back into contention. After all, even with “pathetic” putting, Mickelson wasn’t too far from the cut lines.
Mickelson had a bit of a career revival, or at least an upward spike in his abilities in 2013, when he started hitting a modified 3-wood instead of a driver off the tee. He won twice in 2013, including a thrilling victory at the British Open Championship, earning the win with an amazing final round 66. The 3-wood, which played a big part in the Open win, had about the same distance as his driver but was more accurate. His fairway percentage jumped up three percentage points (54.3 to 57.3). That seems like a small number, but it makes a difference. Also, a miss off the smaller clubface of a 3-wood drifts way less, making the miss more manageable. That means perhaps playing a second shot from the second-cut or light rough instead of the deepest grass. For a risky player like Mickelson, the 3-wood helped managed the chances he took by increasing the margin for error.
If Mickelson can recover 2013’s tee shots, fix (or at least improve) his putting and generally inch back toward his best play then he can win any weekend. That’s going to be the key. Amid financial legal issues and struggling with his game, Mickelson went winless in 2014. If Mickelson can recover his putting and hit his 3-wood in play, he could pull off some important victories in 2015.
If there is one tournament Lefty wants to be ready for, it has to be the U.S. Open -- the final major win that would complete Mickelson’s career grand slam.
The 2015 U.S. Open, the most important tournament for six-time runner up Mickelson, will be held at Chamber’s Bay in Tacoma, Washington. Chamber’s Bay, a links-style, Scottish-inspired course, is more open than a traditional U.S. Open site. If Mickelson can recover his game, it’s as good a place as any for him to complete his grand slam.
The first major of the year is the Masters, where Mickelson has won three times (2004, 2006, 2010). The April-9 start date is creeping ever closer, so Lefty will have to make quick strides to earn his fourth win at Augusta National. Mickelson might be just as capable as any elite golfer to make a serious push at the title. He has continually proven he can do just about anything on a golf course.
Mickelson’s latest major win was the 2013 British Open, meaning success in the U.K. is fresh in his mind, and the PGA Championship is winnable as well.
He’s one of the few players, like Woods or Rory McIlroy, who are successful enough to measure their seasons solely by major wins. Over the years, the famous left-hander has won more than $75 million on tour. There’s nothing left for Mickelson to prove, but ever the competitor, he is expected to find his form regardless.