Is this the end of Phil Mickelson as a PGA Tour force?
All good things must come to an end – or so the proverb goes.
Even the brightest stars eventually fade.
Tiger is already burned out, while Ernie Els’ game looks like it is being pursued by a shadow wielding a scythe.
Is Phil Mickelson also starting his descent into PGA Tour obscurity?
Lefty and Els both ‘celebrated’ their 100th start in a major this week and the PGA baked them a big cake.
Both looked a little uncomfortable posing for the pictures.
It had the feeling of one of those forced retirements where everyone’s clapping – the watch has been handed over – but the old timer’s still clinging tightly to the desk begging not to be consigned to a life of sheltered housing and bingo.
Nothing we’ve seen in two days at Quail Hollow makes you optimistic Phil’s going to avoid checking into the Champions Tour care home once he turns 50.
This has not been a good year for the 47-year-old.
Three top tens all season, and a run at the WGC-Match Play, are nowhere near the high standards Mickelson sets himself.
He’s not won a tournament since lifting the Claret Jug at Muirfield more than four years ago and doesn’t look like snapping that streak soon.
I wonder what scars not winning the Open at Royal Troon have left.
‘Phil the Thrill’ could not have played more imperiously that week 13 months ago, and it wasn’t enough. Imagine how it must sting to have shot 65 in the final round and not win.
It has to take a piece of you with it.
Since then, he’s split with Bones and is settling in to a spare weekend for the second major in a row.
Mickelson’s eight-over 79 in the opening round yesterday was his worst ever at the PGA Championship. This was his 25th appearance.
What was most worrying was the way he butchered what looked like fairly straight forward approach shots.
It took until the third, his 13th hole of today’s round and 31st of the championship, for him to record a birdie.
Add in a blank round at Royal Birkdale and that was nearly 50 holes without a circle on the scorecard.
Anyone know the last time that happened?
He immediately went bogey, double bogey before finishing with a late flurry for 74 and an 11-over-par total.
So here are the sobering stats.
It’s the first time in 22 years he’s missed the cut at the PGA and the first time in a decade he hasn’t recorded a top 10 in a major.
Tomorrow will be the first Saturday at the PGA Championship without Phil Mickelson since "Waterfalls" by TLC was the no. 1 song in America.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) August 11, 2017
This was a track that should have heralded a revival. Yes, there have been changes and, yes, it’s been toughened up for the championship.
But this layout has suited his eye. In the previous four years at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, he finished third, 11th, fourth and fourth.
What a comedown.
So what about Bones?
What we’ve seen on the course since that quarter of a century-long partnership came to such a sudden, and surprising, halt has not been promising.
I always felt Bones was the yin to Phil’s yang – the one person that could keep the shackles on, or at least launch some last minute diplomacy, when the button was about to be pushed on another flight of lunacy.
Forget about vetoes. It’s a fun side issue but it distracts from the overall role Bones played. Even if Phil didn’t always take the advice, it was there and presented to him in frank fashion.
Now Bones has gone and all Mickelson’s showboating desires can be unleashed – to the detriment of his score.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see brother Tim – now on the bag – laying down the law when he goes for another backwards flop shot.
There is a chink of light in the gloom. If you look at the bare numbers, there is still hope.
Mickelson’s birdie conversion rate, average score and average finish all compare relatively favourably with better years in his career.
If he can play more to his strengths – he is still a genius short game player – and minimise his mistakes (will he ever learn to keep the ball on the course off the tee?) then he still could have plenty to offer.
Despite largely not being in contention on a Sunday this year, Mickelson’s not missed a cut in a regular PGA Tour event all season and has claimed more than $1.7 million in prize money.
That’s a fantastic year for many of his colleagues.
When you’ve won 42 times, though, have five majors and are still only a single leg away from the career Grand Slam, the bar is set just that little bit higher.
For his part, Phil thinks it’s all just a matter of focus.
“It’s not like I’m hitting the ball crooked, I’m just hitting it in the wrong spots,” he said. “Not really controlling my thought process, where I want the ball to go.
“I’m not real focused out there. I’m having a tough time visualizing the shot. I’m having a tough time controlling my thoughts and not letting it wonder to what I don’t want to have happen.
“On the range, I’m having some of the best sessions, swinging the club fine, striking it pretty good and yet I’m not controlling my thought process out there.”
Let’s hope this is merely a blip, even though everything feels just a little bit forlorn at the moment.
For as Dylan Thomas immortally urged: “Don’t go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
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