PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — He was so good, so young, on the cover of Golf Digest when still an amateur. The sport belonged to Phil Mickelson, along with Ernie Els. And then Tiger Woods came along.
Who knows what might have happened? What did happen was that Woods burst upon the scene, and suddenly Tiger was the only one who mattered. The acclimation was earned. Woods was one of a kind. Unfortunately for Phil.
But Mickelson kept playing the game and playing it spectacularly, as we were reminded over the weekend with yet another win at the AT&T Pro-Am, clinched Monday after the all-too-familiar weather delay.
When after Sunday's hail and rain the scheduled final round lacked two holes of completion because of darkness, Mickelson and Paul Casey returned Monday to finish it off. It was a formality, because Phil, who birdied Pebble’s magnificent 18th, in effect won the tournament Sunday.
He had six birdies in the scheduled fourth round, then with the final shot a 7-under-par 65 for 19-under 228 and a three-shot win over Casey, who was paired with Mickelson and came in with a 71.
This was the fifth win in the AT&T for Phil, the same as Mark O’Meara, who grew up in southern California as did Mickelson and Tiger. Another U.S. Open comes to Pebble in June, a fact that is both upbeat and a bit taunting for Mickelson.
It was here at Pebble in the 1992 Open that Phil made his first start as a pro. But it is the Open, in which he has finished second six times, that has kept him from taking all four majors.
Mickelson, 48, has 48 PGA Tour wins, compared with Tiger’s 80. But Woods has never won at Riviera, where Tiger and Phil will be among the golfers at this week’s Genesis Open. Mickelson has two victories there.
Phil is a fascinating individual, a natural righthander who plays golf lefthanded, supremely confident in his game and his decisions. He takes chances others would not. The ultimate Mickelson move came a few years ago when, something like 100 yards from the cup at Torrey Pines, he ordered his caddy to pull the flagstick, as if he had only a short putt.
Mickelson has gone 28 years since his first PGA Tour victory. He and Woods are the only players with more than $90 million in career earnings.
“It’s a lot more work and effort to play at this level,” Mickelson said, alluding to his age. For example, he is virtually twice as old as Jordan Spieth, and he is five and half years older than Woods.
“And I have believed for some time that if I play at my best, it will be good enough to win tournaments. The challenge is getting myself to play my best. It’s a lot more work off the course, it’s more time in the gym, it’s more time eating, it’s more time focusing, it’s all these things that go into it.
“And so it’s gratifying to see the results and to finish it off the way I did.”
Although his early golf was in fair weather near his San Diego-area home, and he played at Arizona state — as did Casey, the Englishman — Mickelson enjoys the challenge of competing in rain and wind. Which should be apparent for someone as successful as he has been in the AT&T.
It was clear — if not warm — on Monday, but the week had been tumultuous. No one could remember in the years the Bing Crosby/AT&T has been held on the Monterey Peninsula that it hailed, as it did on Sunday.
The final round had been delayed at the start by one hour because of rain. After a break came the hail. Another delay, two hours. Rounds take five and a half to six hours, and the sun set at 5:43 p.m. Mickelson wanted to play in the gloom. Casey did not.
Play resumed at 8 a.m. Monday. Mickelson thanked Casey for refusing to play in the darkness.
“Paul made the tough call, but it was the right decision in that he protected himself and myself for the competition,” Mickelson said. “I just get in my own little bubble and I don’t see the big picture.”
The picture now is a great one for Phil, showing five titles.