CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Phil Mickelson left Charlotte earlier in the PGA Championship than he would have liked. Although Mickelson, 47, hasn’t made a habit of missing cuts, his game no longer is in its prime.
With five major titles to his credit, Mickelson faces a window for winning a sixth that has closed.
Since winning the 2013 British Open at Muirfield, the left-hander has shown a tendency for feast or famine in the major championships, including three runners-up and four missed cuts, notably the last two majors of 2017.
In 2014, Mickelson posted four rounds in the 60s during the PGA at Valhalla Golf Club but lost by one stroke to Rory McIlroy.
In 2015, Mickelson finished four shots back of Jordan Spieth at the Masters. A year later, he lost an epic final-round duel to Henrik Stenson in the British Open at Royal Troon.
Last month in the British Open at Royal Birkdale, Mickelson failed to advance to weekend play. It was his first start without longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay, who was replaced on the bag temporarily by Mickelson’s younger brother, Tim.
“Unfortunately, it's the first cut I’ve missed this year, and I missed it with flair,” Mickelson said after his 10-over 150 and short week at Birkdale. “I was surprised because I really thought Thursday I was prepared. I felt like I was ready. I thought I had a good game plan. I thought my game was sharp, but obviously it wasn't.”
The dullness of his game showed up again here at Quail Hollow, where Mickelson shot 11-over 153 and missed the cut by six shots in his 100th major championship.
“It's not like I'm hitting the ball crooked,” he said. “I’m just hitting it in the wrong spots. Not really controlling my thought process, where I want the ball to go. I'm not real focused out there. I’m having a tough time visualizing the shot. I'm having a tough time controlling my thoughts and not letting it wander to what I don't want to have happen.”
Mickelson, who disclosed in 2010 that he is being treated for psoriatic arthritis, maintains that he feels fine physically. It’s also unclear whether Mickelson is being forthcoming about his health.
If his health is good, then he has other issues, namely PGA champion Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and an emerging generation of young talent with which to contend.
During the past two years, seven of the eight majors have been won by first-time major champions.
Mickelson, who lacks only the U.S. Open title to become the sixth winner of the career Grand Slam, will turn 48 during the national championship’s visit to Shinnecock Hills in June. That’s how old the late Julius Boros was when he won the 1968 PGA to become golf’s oldest major champion.
Other than Augusta National, where Mickelson has won three green jackets, Shinnecock Hills would seem to offer him the best shot at another major title. In 2004, Mickelson finished runner-up to Retief Goosen in the U.S. Open. But that’s ancient history.
“I don’t feel like I did two years ago, where I’m searching for my game or I’m trying to find it or trying to strike it well,” Mickelson said. “I have great practice sessions. … Just not real focused when I’m out there.”
Focus, health and a permanent caddie will be needed to give Mickelson a chance. At this point, another major is out of reach.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli