Damn the “Beast from the East”. It was bad enough that our worst winter blast in eight years put paid to my weekly Wednesday morning hit but knocking out the satellite dish to leave me in the dark as everyone else was engrossed in the WGC-Mexico Championship was a real sickener.
Even giving the dish a good prod with a Gary Player Invitational flagstick – I knew that it would come in handy one day even though my wife was not impressed when I bought it at an auction a few moons back – was to no avail, so, yes, I missed out on what, by all accounts, seemed to be one of the best events witnessed for some time.
Of course, the fact it ended up being won by Phil Mickelson merely added to the disappointment because seeing ‘Lefty’ in that mode remains one of the best sights in golf and what a boost, both for him personally and golf in general, to land such a notable success at the age of 47. “I don’t feel that age,” said Mickelson, smiling, at his press conference. “I also think it’s cool because not many [older players] are able to compete at this level.”
Make no mistake, many wondered if Mickelson had become a spent force himself. He’d not won, after all, since becoming Open champion at Muirfield in 2013, having landed that triumph seven days after he also claimed the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. In fairness, it took a sensational performance from Henrik Stenson to stop a second Claret Jug ending up in the Californian’s hands at Royal Troon in 2016, but that was a rare glimpse of Mickelson being at his best over the past four-and-a-half years.
That said, he’d recorded three top-ten finishes in a row heading into the event in Mexico and, having prevailed in a play-off against Justin Thomas after the pair ended up tied on 16-under-par, no wonder Mickelson has that sparkle back in his eyes. “This is a very meaningful win,” he admitted. “I can’t really put it into words given the tough times over the past four years and the struggle to get back here.
“I have been extremely frustrated knowing that I can play at this level but haven’t been doing it, so to finally have this validation means a lot to me. There’s always doubts and, though I am a pretty optimistic guy, you need to have some validation.”
This was his 43rd PGA Tour triumph and Mickelson is confident that he can reach the half century before he’s done and dusted. “I will get there,” he predicted. “I know how great these young guys are, but I also know what level I can play at and I will get there.”
Could a fourth Masters victory now be possible? Why not, especially when the record books show that Augusta National is a course that favours players with form there. “It’s great to get a win before The Masters,” added Mickelson, “and this certainly boosts my confidence and gives me encouragement about the things we’ve been working on.
“I am very optimistic and believe that this is just a stepping stone to some good things to come as I believe I am starting to play some of my best golf again. My body feels great and I’m hitting some shots better than I have in my career and I’m putting better than I have in my career. I’m also starting to drive it better than I have in my career. It’s still not great; it’s average and that’s all I need. I believe my game is going to continue to get better each week. I don’t think this is the peak.”
How exciting is that to hear? Coupled with Tiger Woods showing there is life in another old dog – Bubba Watson, too, though, in fairness, he’s not yet hit 40 – the young guns, led by Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm, aren’t going to get it all their own way and golf will be the big winner from that particular scenario.
There are people out there, of course, who lost respect for Mickelson when he publicly slaughtered Tom Watson straight after the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, but it would certainly be appropriate for him to be on the US team for this year’s match in France given that his remarks changed American attitudes about the event.
“One of my big goals is to part of winning a Ryder Cup in Europe,” he said. “It hasn’t happened in my career and it would mean a tremendous amount to me. If we can win this year, it would be a special moment in my career. I’ve still got work to do to make the team but a little less now.”
Welcome back to the winner’s enclosure, Phil.