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What Will Phil Mickelson Do Next?

Lefty Will Need Hot Putting to Continue, Tighten Long Game to Contend at Players Championship

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COMMENTARY | I've covered Phil Mickelson enough to routinely expect the unexpected. Mickelson plays golf his way, which produces plenty of performance volatility. His highs are spectacular while his lows can be maddeningly frustrating.

Lefty's performance at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, where he bogeyed two of the last three holes to miss a playoff by a shot, was vintage Phil.

What this means for this week's Players Championship and the U.S. Open at Merion next month? Probably not much as Mickelson is a streaky player whose run of good play seldom lasts more than two to three weeks at a time.

In 2010, he carried the momentum of his third Masters victory to Quail Hollow and would have won the tournament if not for a final-round 62 by eventual winner Rory McIlroy. And last year, he narrowly missed winning back-to-back tournaments at Pebble Beach and Riviera when he lost the Northern Trust Open in a playoff.

The pattern of the last few years has Lefty shooting lights out one week - 20-under-par in Houston in 2011, 28-under in Phoenix this year - and then coming close a few other times during the season without winning. Indeed, 2009 was his last multiple-win campaign.

Given Mickelson's age (42), stature - he's already in the World Golf Hall of Fame - and off-course commitments, I expect this hot-cold pattern to continue through the remainder of his playing days. But that's not a bad thing.

Lefty still has the length, guts and short game to produce plenty of highlight reels. More importantly, he's at a point in his career where pundits have given up trying to change him.

Mickelson used to catch flak at every major championship for not dialing down his aggressiveness to suit courses that put a premium on accuracy and control. But despite his infamous meltdowns - the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot come to mind - he has never altered his playing style, never even considered it.

During Saturday's round at Quail Hollow, he attempted to slice a 3-wood off a cart path and around a tree on the par-5 15th hole and instead airmailed his ball out of bounds, leading to double bogey. (Rather than play it safe, Lefty dropped in the same predicament and then hit driver around the tree and just short of the green).

Mickelson scored in his typical fashion during the Wells Fargo. He was long but crooked off the tee - finding the fairway on just one of every three drives - but made up for it with a deadly putting stroke and reliable short game, until the closing stretch Sunday.

It's amazing he has won 41 times while putting so much pressure on himself. Being behind the eight ball has hurt him the most at tight U.S. Open layouts and could stress him on a TPC Sawgrass course replete with hazards on nearly every shot.

Priorities in Right Place

Lefty cares deeply about winning but he also realizes how lucky he is to be playing golf for a living. Professional sports are entertainment and golf is no different. Mickelson plays the role of entertainer better than anyone on the PGA Tour.

That's why you'll see him signing every autograph after a round, even if it delays his personal schedule or an interview with the media.

The downside of Mickelson's hot-cold style is reflected in the few milestones he has failed to achieve as a professional. Lefty has never been ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and he's never won PGA Tour Player of the Year or the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average.

But missing accolades, short of a U.S. Open victory, will do little to dampen Mickelson's irrepressible optimism. As long as he continues to win - he holds the Tour's longest streak of years with a victory at 10 - and to draw legions of fans to the golf course, he's right where he wants to be.

Mark McLaughlin has reported on the PGA Tour for the New York Post, FoxSports.com, Greensboro News & Record, and Burlington (N.C.) Times-News. He is a past member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @markmacduke.

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