LOS ANGELES – Phil Mickelson still relishes defying convention.
Whether it’s winning the Masters with two drivers in his bag, or losing the U.S. Open with no drivers in his bag, Mickelson continues to be full of more surprises than any player in the game today.
Mickelson’s journey to the finish line has always been the most adventurous of any player in this era.
So who is going to put it past him to blaze a new trail again this year?
Who is going to be shocked if he breaks away from his erratic history with a run of consistency that makes this his best year ever?
Wouldn’t that be just like Mickelson, orchestrating his finest season when we least expect it, when were just about ready to write him off?
Just a few days removed from his electrifying victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Mickelson sounds up for the challenge. He will tee it up Thursday at the Northern Trust Open looking to win this event for the third time. He is aiming to win back-to-back starts for the fourth time in his 21-year professional career.
“I feel like I had such a fun week that I want to try and have that again,” Mickelson said. “I don’t feel like there’s a letdown. I feel like there’s excitement and a new energy to get back in that position. I want to feel that again here at Riviera.”
It’s there for Mickelson this week. He has the confidence and momentum with that final-round 64 still fresh in his mind. He has history going for him. He won at Riviera in 2008 and ’09.
“I really like Riviera,” Mickelson said. “It’s one of the best courses in the world.”
Mickelson has never been No. 1 in the world rankings. He has never been the PGA Tour Player of the Year. He has never been the PGA Tour’s leading money winner.
It’s still all there for Mickelson this year in a potential whopper of a season.
Yeah, at 41, there is a lot working against him. There is his advancing age. There is the unpredictable nature of psoriatic arthritis. There are family matters always ranking as priorities.
Mostly, though, there is Mickelson working against Mickelson. He is sporadically spectacular. That’s his nature. He doesn’t have big years. He has big weeks, big months, big seasons (as in big spring or big summer, but never the big full season).
Then again, with that Pebble Beach victory fresh, the Masters just around the corner, and nobody jumping off to a hot start so far this PGA Tour season, it’s all there for Mickelson.
And wouldn’t it be just like the big fella to fashion his best season in the year that he is enshrined into the Hall of Fame?
Now that would be breaking the mold.
“Phil has won 40 times,” Fred Couples said. “So when you sit and look at that, that’s amazing. Tiger Woods does play. He has for the last 15 years. If he hadn’t, Phil would have been, probably, our best player, maybe Vijay for a long, long time. The guy is a true champ. I look back, and I think he’s one of the all-time great players.”
The thing is, Mickelson has never won more than four times in a season. He has done that three times. But then again, four wins is a monster year these days. Luke Donald won PGA Tour Player of the Year honors last year with two victories. Jim Furyk won the award with three victories two seasons ago.
With Tiger Woods still not looking like Tiger Woods, anything’s possible this year.
And who knows? Mickelson might surprise himself. He surprised himself last week at Pebble Beach.
“It was really a fun, cool round,” Mickelson said of his closing 64 Sunday, a staggering 11 shots better than Woods, who played alongside him. “And I know that a lot of people are saying, `Where did that round come from after his first three tournaments?’ . . . I’ve been wondering where that’s been these last three weeks.”
Mickelson, it seems, likes surprising himself as much as he does surprising us.
“I just think that it’s a cool element of the game of golf that you just never know when it’s going to click, when it’s going to turn,” Mickelson said.
Or when a career year might click.