Punch Shot: What will Phil do in 2016?

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Phil Mickelson is making his 2016 debut at this week's CareerBuilder Challenge. The 45-year-old Hall of Famer faces some big questions this year. Our writers offer some answers:

By REX HOGGARD

Phil Mickelson will turn 46 the day he tees off for the first round of this year’s U.S. Open, a milestone that he seemed to sense with a touch of unease when he said earlier this month on "Morning Drive" he was optimistic but “also nervous.” It’s always difficult to predict what Lefty will do, particularly during such a crucial year, but here goes:

Win a Tour event? Mickelson will win a PGA Tour event in 2016, his first since hoisting the claret jug in 2013, and it’s likely that triumph will come on the West Coast, where he has won 19 of his 42 Tour titles (the Northern Trust Open, where he’s won twice, would be the most obvious place).

Win the U.S. Open? As for the greater goal, which would be to finally win the U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam, it’s starting to feel as if that ship has sailed. After six runner-up finishes in his national championship the odds simply aren’t in Mickelson’s favor at Oakmont.

Play for the U.S. Ryder Cup team? He will, however, don the red, white and blue for the 11th time in October at the Ryder Cup. Whether he qualifies, which he would with a victory, or is one of captain Davis Love III’s picks, there is no way Mickelson will miss this year’s matches.


By RANDALL MELL

Win a Tour event? Yes. He’s motivated. He’s right about his swing. It doesn’t seem to put the kind of pressure on his body that other players feel. Mickelson has always been unpredictably good, turning it on when we don’t expect it. He was off his game in a winless year in 2015, but he still tied for second at the Masters, tied for third at the FedEx St. Jude and tied fourth at Wells Fargo. His putting wasn’t terrible (41st in putts per GIR), but he was terrible in the lack of birdie chances he gave himself. He was 177th in hitting greens in regulation, the worst statistical finish of his 24-year PGA Tour career. He won’t be that bad again this year. 

Win the U.S. Open? No. The window has closed. He’ll be 46 by the time he tees it up at Oakmont. Hale Irwin remains the oldest U.S. Open winner at 45 for a reason.

Play for the U.S. Ryder Cup team? He’ll be worth a captain’s pick again, but he isn’t among the 10 best Americans in the game anymore and won’t make it on points.


By RYAN LAVNER

Win a Tour event? I predict we’ll see a rejuvenated Mickelson in contention a bunch this year – at Augusta and Quail Hollow and Baltusrol, among others – but also going winless for the third consecutive season. With the depth of talent on the Tour these days, it’s asking a lot for a 45-year-old to hold it together for all four rounds, especially with the putter.  

Win the U.S. Open? What a story it’d be, but Chambers Bay was Lefty’s last great chance.

Play for the U.S. Ryder Cup team? Yes, but that’s assuming he plays well in at least a few majors. As great as he is in the team room, he still needs to post a few top finishes to warrant consideration over some of the young, hungry players who likely will have better seasons. 

Mickelson has too much talent to fade away completely, and the combination of his new swing changes and this being a Ryder Cup year should keep him engaged. As always, his year is best approached without expectation – it’s what makes his throwback performances (like the ’15 Masters) even more thrilling.


By WILL GRAY

Win a Tour event? Lefty will give himself a couple of chances, but I don’t see it happening. A new swing coach could take some getting used to, and Mickelson’s stat line last season left plenty to be desired: 114th in par-4 scoring, 144th in ball-striking and 177th in GIR percentage. Don’t be surprised if he ends the year without a trophy.

Win the U.S. Open? Well, it will be hard for my first prediction to come true if Mickelson wins at Oakmont, so I’ll say no. On top of that, I’ll echo a belief I have shared in this space for the past two years: Mickelson will never win the one remaining trophy that he covets the most. 

Play for the U.S. Ryder Cup team? This, I can see. Even if Mickelson has a mediocre season, and even if he doesn’t win an event, I can see Davis Love III adding Mickelson as a pick. His veteran leadership and team room presence are clearly viewed as benefits, and he played surprisingly well as a pick at the Presidents Cup. If it happens, hopefully for everyone’s sake we can avoid another benching controversy.

When Mickelson left Muirfield with the claret jug three years ago, the discussion centered around just how high his new career trajectory would take him. But if he remains winless in 2016, the talk could easily shift to whether or not Mickelson – who turns 46 in June – will ever win again on the PGA Tour.