LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Nine short days ago, Phil Mickelson was lost.
He kept saying over and over again that his game was close. He was working on the proper things, his swing was feeling good, but the results just were not there.
Then he shot a final-round 62 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and declared himself ready to win his sixth major, a total that would match Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo.
It’s difficult to tell if Mickelson, 44, truly believed he would play well this week at the PGA Championship, but he was paired with Tiger Woods over the first two days and whipped his longtime rival by 12 shots. That seemed to give Lefty the ultimate spark.
Following a third-round 67, Mickelson was in Sunday’s penultimate group with Rickie Fowler, whom he considers a good friend. Mickelson made five birdies in the first 11 holes, held a share of the lead at one point on the back nine at Valhalla and shot 66, one of the lowest rounds of the day.
But a bogey on the 16th hole threw all chances of victory away, and Mickelson finished in second place, one shot behind golf’s new king Rory McIlroy.
This is now Mickelson’s ninth runner-up finish in a major championship, a total that is only behind Jack Nicklaus (19) and Arnold Palmer (10).
“It was a fun day for me to get in the mix and a fun day for me to make some birdies and move up early so that I had a good chance on the back nine,” Mickelson said. “I'm disappointed in the outcome. I thought that had I been able to finish those last, five, six holes strong, could have totally flipped the way I look at this year.
“But now I've got some regrouping to do these next three for four months. I have some glaring areas in my game that I have to work on, and I feel like if I'm able to continue to be strong and healthy and sharp in these areas of my game, I should have four or five good years that I really want to focus in on, and these next three or four months will be critical for me making sure that I address the issues and that I'm ready to go in 2015.”
Those glaring areas, Mickelson said, were his driving and short irons, which he believes were poor for most of the year. Of particular note was a simple wedge shot on the fourth hole from 107 yards that ended 12 feet from the hole and should’ve been inside 5 feet.
Regarding the driving, Mickelson was in the thick of the chase with three holes remaining and failed to position the ball in the fairway on both 16 and 17. He made bogey on 16, and made par on 17, but he had to get up and down from behind the green because he hit a poor approach.
“Those two tee shots hurt,” he said. “Those are the things I’ve got to address. I don’t mind being wild, but when you’ve got to get one in the fairway, you've got to be able to do it.”
Mickelson still has a lot to play for the remainder of this year. Hard to believe that this was his first top-10 finish of the year, but he’ll be heading to the FedEx Cup playoffs in another week. Also, the good PGA performance earned him a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, something that was in question before the week started.