That picture above just says it all. A 45-year-old five-time major winner on the back nine of his career reacting in agony and obvious disappointment to a missed five-foot putt for birdie to get to 17-under and into a playoff against Vaughn Taylor at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Had Lefty made it and gone on to win, it would have marked his first victory since amazingly capturing the 2013 Open Championship. Phil Mickelson, who held the lead heading into the final round, is well aware of this stat, not to mention his age (he turns 46 in June).
Mickelson knows the opportunities are dwindling; he’s getting older (which is becoming a handicap to keep up with the new, much younger generation). That putt could have been a game-changer. Who knows what would have happened, but a fired-up Mickelson would have come out blazing in the playoff against his journeyman opponent and the momentum would have been on Phil’s side. Speaking of which, a win for Mickelson at Pebble Beach could have rejuvenated his expiring career. But the putt didn’t fall.
Mickelson had an up-and-down day that included a slow start, and he obviously didn’t have his best, but he pulled off some gutsy shots coming down the stretch. Two shots back with two holes to play, Phil holed a 12-footer for birdie on the par-3 17th. And then, he hit two excellent shots on the par-5 18th, putting him in excellent position 50 feet short of the cup to make birdie. Mickelson, known for his dexterity around the greens, somewhat surprisingly hit a not-so-great chip, leaving him with a good five feet — one of those really annoying knee-knockers — to match Taylor, who had long been safely sitting in the clubhouse (and probably nearly having a panic attack).
Phil never thought he could miss. He thought he was about to go head-to-head with the relative unknown Vaughn Taylor, whom he partnered with in the 2006 Ryder Cup (yes, Vaughn Taylor was on a Ryder Cup team), and go on to secure his fifth victory at this event and his 43rd Tour title.
The break was left edge, but in the end, it didn’t quite break the way he wanted it to, he said.
“It never crossed my mind that one on 18 wouldn’t go in,” he said. “But I’ve made a lot of putts this week. I made the two on 16, 17 I thought for sure, never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t make that one and when it didn’t go in, it just, I was a bit shocked.”
Mickelson has come out rejuvenated, he says, this year. He fired longtime swing coach Butch Harmon last fall and hired Andrew Getson. He worked on some swing changes and he’s been dealing with playing with that in competition, but overall, he’s been happy with his results — T3 at the Bob Hope, T11 at Phoenix, and now a solo second at Pebble in the last month.
He’s been saying he’s close since the desert or that he’s found something. He’s closer perhaps now, but he’s just not quite where he wants to be in order to overcome age (which, let’s be real, starts to become a handicap at some point) and play his way to the winner’s circle again after being drought-less for almost three years.
“I’m certainly disappointed that I wasn’t able to put together, but it makes me a little bit more determined to get this back to where I want it. Obviously, I’m not quite there yet.
Today I played a little bit tighter than I wanted to. I made some — a few more mistakes in short game around the greens. I didn’t salvage some pars the way I wanted to. And it just tells me I still need a little bit of work. But I’m also very close.”
It sounds like he was feeling some nerves, too. He played defensively.
“I played a little bit tighter throughout the round than I wanted to,” he said. “I was trying to kind of free it up, but I didn’t salvage pars on some holes that I needed to salvage pars.
“I didn’t have a hard up-and-down on 11. I didn’t have a hard up-and-down on 14. And I wasn’t able to get those up-and-down. Those were some shots that cost me, just like not getting up-and-down on 4 and 5 today, as well as the last.
“So it tells me I need a little bit of work to do. I’m not quite where I want to be yet. I’m a little bit more determined to get it back. But I also know that I’m close.”
You know what, I’m glad Vaughn Taylor won. He has a great comeback story and I always root for the underdog. The guy has fallen so far off the map that 10 days ago he was puking his face off in his hotel room in Bogota, Colombia, and had to withdraw from a Web.com Tour event. (He’s also eighth alternate in the next Web event.) Oh, yeah, he only had a carry-on bag with him to save on those pesky baggage fees. Taylor only got a spot in the field this past week because Carl Pettersen withdrew.
Taylor had never given up on his career, though he was starting to rule out another victory, and he never imagined returning home to Augusta, Georgia, to play in the Masters. He is the first player this year to qualify by winning.
“Playing in the Masters is my Super Bowl,” Taylor said.
Taylor was No. 447 in the world and had never won a tournament against the best players. His previous two victories were the Reno-Tahoe Open (2004 and 2005), which is held opposite a World Golf Championship. He had a scare two years ago when his aluminum fishing boat capsized in a strong current, leading to a few moment of panic with cold water up his chin and a park ranger guiding him to shore.
He finished at 17-under 270 and earned $1.26 million, which is about $165,000 more than he made the last three years combined.
By the way, in case you didn’t know, Taylor has won twice previously on the PGA Tour. I mean, I know we were really bad in 2006, but he was still on that Ryder Cup team. Some of his peers were confused and you can’t blame them, it’s been over a decade since his last W.
That’s why you keep grinding, you just never know when it’s your turn. Very happy for @VaughnTaylorPGA on his 1st PGA Tour victory