Punch Shot: How many career majors will Phil win?

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 23, 2013, 12:30 pm

In light of Phil Mickelson's recent triumph at the 142nd Open Championship giving him his fifth major, our writers debate how many he will finish with in his career.


Phil Mickelson will end his career with six major championships.

Hope I’m wrong. Hope he wins more.

Lefty will win another Masters before his career is complete and it’ll give him as many green jackets as Tiger Woods. In an era dominated by these two men it’d only be fitting for Mickelson to end his career even with Woods in at least one category.

A U.S. Open victory is a toss up. I wrote this last month following Mickelson’s loss at Merion: If the golf gods had a heart, they’d allow Phil Mickelson to win the U.S. Open next year at Pinehurst, the place where he first finished second (1999) in the epic finish against Payne Stewart. Then again, if the golf gods had a heart, Mickelson would already have collected at least one Open crown.

Still feel the same way. It’d be great for Mickelson to win the career Grand Slam, something nine years ago seemed impossible because he had won precisely zero majors. But Lefty has come a long way in a short time, and is playing some of the best golf in his career. Almost nothing he does from now until the end of his PGA Tour career would surprise me.

He could win the PGA Championship in three weeks.


Phil Mickelson will win six majors because he’s motivated, but it doesn’t seem likely he will add to his Grand Slam collection after that. It won’t be a lack of talent that strands him at a half dozen, it will be missing inspiration.

Lefty will hit a wall when he finally wins the U.S. Open – quite likely next June when the national championship returns to Pinehurst, site of his first heartbreak. The victory, when and wherever it happens, will move Mickelson into rare air, making him the sixth player to claim the career Grand Slam.

It’s hard to imagine Mickelson, whose focus has been known to waiver, summiting the ultimate major mountain only to start a trip up the next peak.

“If I’m able to win the U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam, I think that that’s a sign of the complete, great player,” he said on Sunday following his victory at the Open Championship, the one major that had a “round peg in a square hole” feel to it for Lefty.

Over time Mickelson learned to play links golf, just as it stands to reason that after six runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open he’d be prepared to secure the last piece to his major puzzle. Beyond that, however, all bets are off.



Two more? Why not? If he bags Nos. 6 and 7, it would mean only six golfers in history would have more major hardware than Lefty. But hey, in the wake of his game-changing victory at Muirfield, the possibilities are limitless.

In coming years, his flexibility will decrease, and so will his distance. But at 43 – an age when most pros’ strokes begin to betray them – Phil is putting better than he ever has, eliminating what had appeared to be an early onset of the yips. That alone means he’ll be a factor in every major he enters, provided he’s fit and healthy.

But his best chances to win another major (and complete the career grand slam) are at next year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where all of his national-championship heartbreak began in ’99. Light rough and sloping greens? You can bet Lefty will be a factor there. Same at the Masters, his favorite tournament of the year, where he shows up each April believing he can win. That won’t change deep into his late 40s, and his record there – only one finish outside the top 30 since 1997 – suggests that even a slightly diminished long game could still produce a fourth green jacket. And, yes, even more majors.


I’ll say Phil Mickelson finishes his career with six major titles, but all I really know is that the final number will be at least five and less than 18. At least, I’m pretty sure about that last part.

Trying to predict anything about Mickelson’s career has always been an exercise in futility. As if we needed further evidence, let’s see a show of hands for which of you had ever predicted he’d win an Open Championship. OK, now put your hands down and extinguish the flames on your pants.

At 43, he isn’t showing any signs of breaking down anytime soon, so it’s hard to believe that he won’t be seriously in the mix for at least another half-decade, giving him 21 more major starts, including the upcoming PGA Championship.

I’m already on record in a Punch Shot from last month saying that I didn’t think he would ever win a U.S. Open, a tournament at which he’s been snakebitten to the tune of a half-dozen runner-up results. I’d gladly be wrong about that one if it means watching history unfold – and it would: Mickelson would become the sixth player to achieve the career Grand Slam if he finally breaks through at the year’s second major.

I’ll sort of compromise – with myself, if not anyone else – and say that Mickelson wins one more major to tie Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo. But the truth is none of us ever know what to expect from him. That won’t change anytime soon.


Phil Mickelson is predictable only in his unpredictability.

What will Phil do next? How about win another Masters and complete the career Grand Slam with a U.S. Open breakthrough? With seven major championship titles, he would equal the totals Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen ended their careers with.

It’s total guesswork, but there would be something fitting about Mickelson equaling Palmer’s major championship work. The go-for-broke mentality that marked so much of Mickelson’s career is an echo from Palmer’s day. So is the way Mickelson goes out of his way to connect with his fans.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.