COMMENTARY | Phil Mickelson had no business winning the Wells Fargo Championship, and, in the end, he didn't.
Mickelson came up short of a playoff at Quail Hollow when two bogeys in the final three holes left him a shot out of the overtime with Englishman David Lynn and Derek Ernst, who was fourth alternate heading into the week.
The 41-time PGA Tour winner bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes down the stretch, taking him from one shot clear of the field to a solo third-place finish. Mickelson carded a second-consecutive 1-over-73, unable to drain the par-savers he so effortlessly made in the opening two rounds.
Over the first two days, Mickelson did not miss a single putt from inside 10 feet, going 31-for-31. However, on Sunday, Mickelson missed five putts in or darn close to that 10-foot radius around the cup, including three in a row from Nos. 15-17 that cost him the championship.
Of course, it's unreasonable to expect any player -- even the one with the short-game affinity Mickelson has -- to sink every pressure putt. A country-club legend has been built up that Tiger Woods has always made the clutch putts. Even at his best, that's generous rounding on his make percentage. To go 1-for-3 down the stretch, though, would not have been that much of a stretch for the 42-year-old.
The perfect percentage through the first two rounds was misleading anyhow. It was indicative of how poorly Mickelson managed to play from tee to green, needing those putts inside of 10 feet to bail him out from wild driving and lackluster ball-striking that often left him swinging from nasty, deep rough, bunkers or around trees at the majestic Charlotte club.
With his pedigree and, frankly, the pedigree of those that were chasing him most closely, this is a win that Mickelson let slip from his grasp.
Derek Ernst wound up winning the title on the first playoff hole from Lynn, who is only on the PGA Tour because he finished a distant eight shots behind Rory McIlroy to finish alone in second at last summer's PGA Championship. The check afforded Lynn PGA Tour membership for 2013, which he had to be talked into taking by friends after he initially denied interest in playing stateside full-time.
For his part, Ernst only got into the tournament because nine players withdrew for myriad cover reasons to avoid the highly criticized greens at Quail Hollow. As the fourth alternate, he was given little chance, going off at 500-to-1 odds. After battling through all four stages of PGA Tour Q-school last fall to earn his card, Ernst had missed five of his last six cuts. His best finish of the year was a T-47 last week in New Orleans.
Good on Ernst for finding nothing to complain about by earning a start and taking full advantage. It's precisely what Mickelson should have done to lock up his first multi-win season in four years.
Instead, Mickelson could not put it all together in the final round, unable to overcome ball-striking that had him T-71 in fairways hit and T-67 in greens in regulation through three rounds. The nearly four strokes he had gained on the field with his putting proficiency was not enough to get him the W.
Then again, the putter has to be working for a player to win. Just ask Rory McIlroy. If ball-striking determined the title this week, the Ulsterman would have won going away with it. However, McIlroy was near the very bottom of the field in strokes gained putting. It's a fact rich in irony, considering McIlroy said ahead of the tournament, "I don't mind (the poor greens) because I'm not a guy that relies on my putting, per se."
But back to Lefty.
The disappointment may leave him hungry enough for a buffet at TPC Sawgrass for next week's The Players Championship. The 2007 champion, however, will have to have all facets of his game in fine form to figure out Pete Dye's masterpiece puzzle. If this week was any indication, that's not very likely.
Ryan Ballengee is a Washington, D.C.-based golf writer. His work has appeared on multiple digital outlets, including NBC Sports and Golf Channel.
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