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Still no Open lift-off for Lefty

by Matt Slater (U1647490) 20 July 2007
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Phil Mickelson

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.

But the world number two has only won one tournament outside the US, the relatively minor 1993 Perrier Open in Paris, and his record in the Open, the only major to be played outside his home country, is decidedly average for a man with his CV.

This week is Mickelson’s 15th crack at golf’s oldest tournament. The previous 14 have seen him claim one top-10 finish (a third place at Troon that is looking increasingly like the nearest he will get to the Claret Jug), four top-25s and two missed cuts.

After adding a six-over 77 on Friday to his opening 71, the 37-year-old Californian is now looking at his third early exit from this great championship, and his second from an Open at Carnoustie.

Does it matter? Is he bothered?

Well, it’s hard to tell with the famously cheerful Mickelson, but I would hazard the guess that the answer to those questions is yes and yes.

It matters because Mickelson, who has already earned more money than he and his family can spend, cares about his place in golf’s record books. It also matters because of the kind of company he keeps in those record books.

He was the third man to win five PGA Tour events before 25 – Nicklaus was one of the others and Woods has since bettered that feat. He was the fourth youngest to win 10 PGA Tour titles – again Nicklaus was ahead of him on that list and then Woods knocked them both down a peg.

His rivalry with Woods is famous, and rumours about the frostiness of their relationship are what make the PGA Tour merry-go-round keep spinning.

I think the Open tests a complete player’s gamePhil Mickelson
On 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 Mickelson
This 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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comment by MUSS (U7861141)

posted Jul 20, 2007

can you put this article,http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/606/A24516812, back on please.

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posted Jul 20, 2007

Run, Bambi! Run!
I just love Phil's facial expressions.
I live in France and have called him "le lapin étourdi" : in less gallic terms; the stunned bunny.

Sometimes you just get the impression that he's woken up groggy after his siesta and he hasn't got a clue where he is or what he's doing.

In TV terms he is the lead character in Quantum Leap waking up in someone else's body... clueless

Nonetheless, he is a stone-cold killer around the green. And you've got to love his straight line approach to golf, whatever be between him and the hole.

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posted Jul 21, 2007

It is quite obvious Phil is not the best all round player ever but despite his failings at the Open he still is one of the best ever players on tour.

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comment by RuariJM (U2175204)

posted Jul 22, 2007

No sure that I entirely agree with your analysis. The 18th at Loch Lomond wasn't a problem with Mickelson's short game - it was appalling management. Needing just a par to win, when logic would have called for a safe 3-wood down the centr of the fairway, he pulled out his driver and tried to bomb one in. It went deep into trouble and it was his short game that enabled him to rescue a bogey.
Similarly at Carnousite. On the 18th tee, he was 4 over and just needed a par to make the cut. pushed his tee shot left into deep rough. Not the end of the world - a pitch out into the big landing area short of the Barry Burn, then a chip onto the green and a putt would have got him through to the weekend. But what did he do? Pulled out his 3 wood, tried to bomb it onto the green - which would have been spectacular if it had come off. But it didn't. He put it in the Burn.

The short game isn't the problem - it's as good as ever. It's the return of the adrenaline junkie that is stopping Mickelson winning. When he overcame his need for excitement, he won three majors. When he let it back in, he threw away the US Open, the Scottish Open and now his chance of making the cut at Carnoustie.
Calm down, Mick!

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