I know when I write this there are going to be many of you who disagree with me. Especially the Phil fans of whom I am one of. I believe the end of the Phil Mickelson era is upon us. He may win a few more regular tournament events, but he will no longer win majors and will shortly be a complete non-factor.
For starters, it pains me to say this, because during his prime and even today I am one of his biggest supporters. I would and still do root for Phil at every event in which he plays. His go-for-broke style allows for some of the highest highs and lowest lows. We may never see another golfer with his style and flair play the game again. He is certainly deserving of the hall of fame and without Tiger would have been one of the game's true greats. Add to this, Phil is very generous with his time with the fans, signing autographs and giving out balls to the kids, he is easy to like.
Still, it must be stated, that he is no longer the same Phil. We will never know how much the psoriatic arthritis has affected his game and whether or not that has sped up his decline. I think it has affected him more than he will admit. The week in week out grind of playing the tour pounding practice balls has to affect him. I think the medication controls it but it does not eliminate it.
Since Phil's last major, the 2010 Masters, he has only won once in each season, and while he has competed in majors considering his vast experience, he is still winless. I think if Phil were to be honest with us, winning events like the Shell Houston Open, or the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am are great but do not measure up to the victory of a major. I would think in Phil's mind 2011 and 2012 while they were great years and he is pleased to have won, something was missing.
I still believe Phil is a big threat in regular tour stops at least for the next two to three years, and he will hang around in the majors but he will not win. The major he seems to have the best handle on is Augusta. He loves it there and knows the course as well as anyone. Lately though he has faded late. Consider last year where he was the odds on favorite going into the final round but a few holes cost him his chance to win. The rest of the major season he was mostly a non-factor. T65 at the US Open losing his ball on the first hole, and a missed cut at the Open Championship. The PGA Championship was a bit better at T36 but still not making a splash.
The contrarians will argue that Phil has started this year well by winning this years Waste Management Phoenix Open and it should set the table for a great year. My counter argument will be that this is the pattern that Phil has had for the past three seasons and unless he wins a major this year is shaping up the same as the last two. Events like the Phoenix Open or Pebble Beach for Phil have such a familiarity, that he is going to have a chance there for a few more years. Still, they don't have the same weight as a major.
When I look back on Phil's career I could easily argue that it really started to go downhill for him after the disaster in 2006 at Winged Foot. 2004 was a magical year for Phil at the majors, winning the Masters, second at the US Open, 3rd at the Open Championship and a T6 at the PGA. 2005 was the win at the PGA Championship. He kicked off 2006 by winning at Augusta, then leading the US Open on the 18th tee, from there he handing the trophy to Geoff Ogilvy.
I can say without reservation that Phil Mickelson was the best golfer in the Tiger Era. While I cannot say where that puts him in the history books with the likes of Tom Watson and Lee Trevino certainly one has to recognize that winning four majors from 1997 to 2010 was quite a performance considering one guy had fourteen of them. Phil was a free thinker. He was one of the only golfers to use two drivers to win a major. He was probably one of the only pros to play in a major without a driver, although that strategy was clearly a failed experiment. I am hopeful that he will be remembered as one of the greats and mentioned in the same sentence as the guys above.
I hope that my prediction about Phil is wrong and he wins a few more majors. I will be happy to be wrong about this one.
Photo credits: © Will Dickey.