Mickelson: ‘I got outplayed, and I’m fine with that’

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — For a moment there, when he was 3-under-par on the first six holes, it seemed Phil Mickelson, back on the course he loves, was going to show us again it didn’t matter how old he was or how few fairways he hit — that it was magic time once more.

But it was not to be. The faults in Phil’s game, mostly the wild shots off the tees, occasionally the suddenly unsteady short game, were too much to overcome on Sunday, along with a persistent Canadian named Nick Taylor.

On Saturday, Mickelson had come out of bunkers and out of the weeds, the miracle worker, saving pars, making birdies and staying only a shot behind at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am — a tournament he had won five times previously, including last year.

On Sunday, it was different. It was clear, cold and windy on the Monterey Peninsula. Mickelson’s mistakes at Pebble Beach were as apparent as the 2-over-par 36-38—74 that was posted on the scorecard.

And Mickelson, with a 15-under total of 273, five off the winning score of 70—268 by Taylor, wasn’t even able to finish second. That was taken by Kevin Streelman, who shot 68 for 272. Jason Day, at 75—276, was fourth.

Golf is a cruel game. We know that. Phil knows that. What neither he nor we know was whether for Mickelson, five months from his 50th birthday, 12 months from his last win, this was a beginning or an end.

Mickelson arrived at the start of the week saying he had been crushed by his poor play in the months after his victory, cracking the top 20 in only one subsequent event and failing for the first time to make the Presidents Cup team.

Then came the renaissance in the previous three rounds this week. Then the seeming collapse in the final round, although Mickelson in true Phil fashion appeared less than concerned.

“I had a lot of fun having a chance to be in contention and having a chance to win,” he said, as if in a pro career that began here at Pebble in the 1992 U.S. Open, he hadn’t been a champion, been elected to the Golf Hall of Fame, hadn’t been in contention dozens of times.

Conditions were difficult, true, but you would think with all the experience, with all the success — five major wins, more than 40 Tour wins overall — Mickelson would be prepared for anything, even if his game is flying the ball toward the pin.

What he was doing the last few holes was making bogies. Taylor had double-bogied the tough, par-5 14th and Phil, so familiar with the nooks, crannies and history of Pebble, was two back. But the 32-year-old Taylor birdied 15 — a chip-in — and 17, and held firm.

“It’s disappointing certainly to have not won,” Mickelson said, “but I got outplayed. I mean, Nick played better than I did. He holed a couple of great shots. That eagle on (the par-five) sixth, the putts he made on four, five and seven. He played some great golf.”

Great golf is what we expect from Mickelson and, from the tenor and direction of his comments over the years, what he expects from himself. The man never has been reluctant to remind us of his remarkable skills, if subtlely.

“I had a couple of times,” said Mickelson of his round, “where I hit really good shots in bad spots, and I had a couple times where I didn’t quite trust it and made some bad swings. I fought hard, but I loved having a chance to be in it again. It’s so much fun being in the last group, and I’m hoping to build on this.”

Conditions were difficult, true, but you would think with all the experience, with all the success — five major wins, more than 40 Tour wins overall — Mickelson would be prepared for anything, even if his game is flying the ball toward the pin.

”We had a wind that was swirling,” said Mickelson, “greens that were very firm, and there’s virtually no run-up shots. So it was a hard day. But I got outplayed, and (I’m) totally fine with that.”

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