Golf: One last chance for Lefty
By Doug Ferguson
BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. ó Phil Mickelson already had crossed the finish line the last time he showed up at Oakland Hills.
Now he can only hope he is hitting his stride.
Mickelson is the betting favorite at the PGA Championship, his last chance to win a major in a year that has been filled with disappointment at the biggest events.
There was a 75 in the third round of the Masters that knocked him out of contention. There were no drivers in his bag at the U.S. Open for two rounds. And he lost a ball at Royal Birkdale on his way to a 79 in the first round, a major that ended before he could settle in for a cup of tea.
Not that this year has been a disaster by any means.
“This is a big week,” Mickelson said Tuesday. “Because right now my season, with just two wins, is just OK. But if I were able to come through on Sunday and win this event, it would make an OK year a great one.”
It also might erase some sour memories of Oakland Hills.
Mickelson first met “The Monster” in 1996 and endured his worst finish in a U.S. Open over four rounds. He tied for 94th that week, 19 shots out of the lead. Even more forgettable was his last trip to Oakland Hills for the Ryder Cup in 2004.
He already was under more scrutiny than usual for switching from Titleist to Callaway a week before the Ryder Cup. Then he went two days away from his teammates, taking one day off and spending another day working on the adjacent North Course. U.S. captain Hal Sutton paired him with Tiger Woods, and while neither played well in both their losses, Lefty caught the brunt of the blame.
Sutton then benched him, saying Mickelson would be a cheerleader instead of a player.
It was a ragged finish to what had otherwise been a brilliant year for Mickelson, who won his first major at the Masters, was second at the U.S. Open, missed a playoff at the British Open by one shot and was two shots out of a playoff at the PGA Championship.
But his swing was gone long before he arrived at Oakland Hills for the Ryder Cup. That was when Mickelson used to pour so much into the majors that he had little left at the end of the year.
If last week was any indication, he’s headed in the right direction.
Mickelson blew a chance to win the World Golf Championship at Firestone last week with three bogeys on the final four holes, although he explained Tuesday why he wasn’t nearly as alarmed as everyone else.
“Obviously, I didn’t like the way I finished,” he said. “But I was so glad that I was in a position to compete for the championship, to get back into contention, to have an opportunity where every putt counted and put myself in a pressure situation heading into this event. I would have loved to have won last week ó there’s no arguing that point. But I really needed to be there like I was.”
Such is the aura of Mickelson, good and bad.
The winner at Firestone was Vijay Singh, a three-time major champion who, unlike Mickelson, has won a money title, PGA Tour player of the year and was No. 1 in the world. Yet all the TV sports shows focused on the next day was Lefty.
“Were they complimenting my outfit?” Mickelson joked.
It wasn’t his most unseemly collapse, but it still makes news. Mickelson had reason to find progress from what looked like a setback.