Still no Open lift-off for Lefty
by Matt Slater (U1647490) 20 July 2007
Phil Mickelson is one of only three players, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods being the others, to have won the US college golf crown and the US Amateur in the same year. Since then he has won 31 PGA Tour titles, including three majors, and earned over $43m on the course alone.
I think the Open tests a complete player’s gamePhil MickelsonOn home soil, on his day, the big-hitting left-hander, with a surgeon’s touch around the greens, can just about hold his own with Woods.
Where it all unravels for the mercurial one is when they come head-to-head or when they are abroad. What this reveals is the real difference between these two huge talents – Woods is tougher, more ruthless and more adaptable.
And yes, that bothers Mickelson. A lot.
His efforts to win an Open, and therefore prove his credentials as the kind of player that can win on any course, in any conditions, have become one of the championship’s great sub-plots.
Every year, “Lefty” turns up at the Open a little earlier to get some extra, under-cover, practice in. And every year he talks up his chances and tells us about the tweaks he has made to his game. And every year he goes home disappointed.
Twelve months ago, much stock was given to the fact that he had flown over especially to play Hoylake in private. Prior to the tournament, he spoke about his growing understanding of links golf, and the lower ball-flight needed for success away from the “bomb it and putt it” courses he devours back home.
He finished in a tie for 22nd – his third best Open result – 13 shots behind Woods, who provided another master class in shot-making, nerve and adaptability.
This year, Mickelson took advantage of a missed cut at Congressional to fly to Scotland early and get three days of prep work in at Carnoustie before going to Loch Lomond for the Scottish Open.
Until Sunday, it was looking quite promising. Despite using his early rounds at the very American-style course to experiment with some “links-style” shots, Mickelson was odds-on for the win with three to play.
He then bogeyed 16, birdied 17 and bogeyed 18. This allowed Gregory Havret, the world number 320, to force a play-off, which he won when Mickelson bogeyed the 18th again.
I started to play some pretty good golf last week and I don't know why I've putted these greens so poorlyPhil MickelsonThis all looked horribly familiar to Mickelson backers, many of whom believe their hero has not been quite the same since doing something similar to hand Geoff Ogilvy the US Open last year. Woods, the logic goes, would never have allowed either Loch Lomond or Winged Foot to happen.
The surprising thing about Mickelson’s struggles this week is that they have largely come on and around the greens, an area he justifiably prides himself on, usually with justification.
On Thursday, he played beautifully from tee to green, hitting 14 of 18 greens in regulation (to rank 7th in the 156-man field), but could not hole a putt. He used his flat stick 33 times (139th best in the field). His frustration was evident, and by the last few holes the deliberations over line and pace with his caddie were taking longer than some papal elections.
He never stopped acknowledging his partners’ good play, or nodding to the crowd, but his play was getting quite ragged towards the end.
Friday saw the faults in his putting stroke spread to the rest of his game. He hit only eight of 15 fairways and nine of 18 GIR. He took one less putt than Thursday, but 65 of those over two days will often add up to a six-over-par total of 148.
The double-bogey six at the last will probably be his final contribution to the drama this year, as the cut looks like coming at three or four over.
Speaking to the press on Tuesday, Mickelson said two very revealing statements that sum up his relationship with this tournament and the reason why he will probably never win it.
“The great thing about the Open is that it shows that a player who has won it has a game that can be tested by the elements and by different shots – along the ground and in the air,” he said, looking like he meant it. “I think that tests a complete player’s game.”
But when asked if he wanted to rank where the Open stood in his priorities – Woods having said it was his favourite major – Mickelson, said, smiling sheepishly, “Not really.”
So what we’re looking at is an incomplete player that doesn’t really like cross winds, dodgy bounces and thick rough. Perhaps his record at the Open isn’t so shabby after all.
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