News & Opinion

Nick Taylor begins to realize his potential

Former No. 1 amateur in world claims wire-to-wire victory at AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but not before Phil Mickelson initiates a stunning collapse at a place where he won 5 times

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Nick Taylor won his second career title on the PGA Tour, which is as remarkable as it is surprising.

It’s remarkable because Taylor, a former world No. 1 amateur from British Columbia, came out of college at Washington with such promise, yet he started his sixth season on the PGA Tour having won only the 2014 Sanderson Farms Championship, an opposite-field event.

AT&T Pro-Am
Nick Taylor takes advantage of an fast start and a big fade by his playing competitor to win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

It’s surprising because Taylor was grouped in the last pairing of Sunday’s final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with Phil Mickelson, a five-time winner here. Although Lefty is 49 years old and trailed by one stroke to begin the round, the belief among many observers was that the Pebble Beach title was Mickelson’s to lose. Well, he did, in fact, lose it, and in spectacular style (scores).

"It's going to open a lot of doors," Taylor said of his victory, "and I'm excited about that."

It might seem disingenuous not to give full credit to Taylor, considering that he never lost the lead, though Mickelson did pull even with a birdie on the par-5 second hole.

Taylor surged back in front with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5 before he holed out for eagle from a greenside bunker at the par-5 sixth. Incredibly, Mickelson was 3 under through six holes on his round and had dropped a shot to Taylor.

As much as Taylor withstood the early pressure from Mickelson, in reality it was Mickelson who was trying to deliver victory to Taylor on a silver platter.

After his 3-under start, Mickelson quickly began to fade with two huge mis-hits, leading to a double bogey at No. 8 and a bogey at nine, to make the turn where he started. He was even par for the day and 16 under for the tournament but now five shots behind Taylor, who turned in 4-under 32.

"When we made the turn," Taylor said, "it was pretty much me and him. ... That was a big part of the challenge."

The eighth and ninth holes seemed to be emblematic of a game that was not firing on all cylinders for Mickelson, whose 44th and most recent Tour victory came here one year ago.

To be fair, Mickelson showed a similar game in Saturday’s third round at Pebble Beach when he hit only half of the greens in regulation but holed out twice greenside during a 5-under 67 that looked better than it was.

When he needed some magic in Sunday’s final round, it was nowhere to be found. Even as Taylor struggled on the back nine, playing Nos. 11-14 in 4 over, Mickelson picked up only a couple of strokes.

When Mickelson did have opportunities, he misfired.

In one five-hole stretch on the back nine, Mickelson missed greens from 98, 128 and 123 yards – all from the fairway – though he saved par each time.

From the eighth through 16th holes, Mickelson hit one green in regulation and was 5 over in the final group. He eventually finished at 2-over 74 and in third place at 14-under 273, one stroke behind runner-up Kevin Streelman and five behind Taylor.

“I had a tough time with the conditions,” Mickelson said. “I had a tough time with making pars, but my focus and everything was really sharp today. I just didn't execute. We had a few misjudgments of the wind. It was just a tough round.”

Mickelson now heads south to Riviera in Pacific Palisades, site of this week’s Genesis Invitational, with a game that he insists is in good shape – that is, if he doesn’t see a right-to-left wind, in which he concedes that he struggles.

In the end Mickelson, gave all the credit to Taylor, saying that the Canadian outplayed him. That much was clear to viewers of the five-hour-plus broadcast.

What isn’t clear is whether Mickelson can put together 72 holes and win again on the PGA Tour. Or, is he, just four months shy of 50, getting too old to win again on the PGA Tour?

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