Phil Mickelson played most of the Northern Trust Open in the lead. He got off to a very quick start and was in the final grouping on both Saturday and Sunday. Competition was fierce as many golfers tried to shoot low the final day. In the end, Keegan Bradley and Bill Haas were tied with Mickelson, which forced an exciting playoff. Bill Haas was able to have another stroke of brilliance in sudden death and came out victorious. So what, if anything, can be taken from this tournament on Phil Mickelson's game?
First, Mickelson has not looked this competitive in a long time. In recent years, it seemed like he was always scrambling or taking unnecessary risks to show off his abilities. This tournament, he played very solid golf. I think the golfer has somewhat matured and learned that the only person who can really beat Phil Mickelson when he is in top form is Phil Mickelson. Another thing to take note of is that Mickelson looked comfortable with the lead. Many players do not. It was not until late in the round that Mickelson dropped an important shot on the 15th hole in the last round that he relinquished his lead for the first time to Bill Haas. If Mickelson continues to play this good in the future, he will be one of the top competitors for the majors.
One of the biggest improvements I have noted in Mickelson's game is with his putter. In clutch situations he was able to knock in very long and difficult putts. This was none more true than on the 18th green at Riviera where he needed to make a birdie to force the playoff. Mickelson was able to make a 20+ footer to stay alive. Also, at Pebble Beach, after Tiger Woods chipped in to make birdie, Mickelson knocked in another difficult putt as if to say, "not on my watch." The putter has not always been Mickelson's go to club and he is prone to missing short almost gimme putts with over compensation for breaks or too much speed. This, again, may be accounted for by his maturity.
Mickelson is representing the older generation of golfers now as young guns make their presence known. The names Kyle Stanley, Spencer Levin, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson were not known two seasons ago but are now big factors in the game. At 41 years of age, how many more seasons does this veteran golfer have under his belt? Five years? Ten years if he is lucky? As he approaches his swan song, Mickelson is making a statement why he belongs in the Hall of Fame, and it has been a pleasure to watch.
I am a die hard sports fan that enjoy staying current with the PGA and European Tour. The new faces and weekly excitement makes it my favorite spectator sport.
- Bill Haas