Published January 13, 2015
Everybody loves a good story. And Phil Mickelson's brilliant British Open victory was just that.
Lefty overcame a 5-stroke overnight deficit on Sunday and won his fifth major by playing (what he deemed) the best round of his career. The fact that he was coming off yet another U.S. Open runner-up disappointment only thickened the plot, and the payoff.
Mickelson crafted one of the greatest final rounds in Open Championship history and now people (commentators, writers, the Internet) expect him to add to the narrative. They want a true storybook finish: a win at Pinehurst in 2014.
Completing the career grand slam and exorcising the ghosts of U.S. Opens past at the scene of his first runner-up would read like great fiction. It would be Mickelson's Ulysses (not that I've read it), but let's not get greedy. Predicting the next Mickelson win is like finishing a James Joyce novel, it's a daunting task.
I'm all for a feel-good story. Before the British Open I predicted redemption for Adam Scott (whoops, the Aussie bogeyed four in a row and coughed up the final-round lead for the second straight year). But Mickelson is way too unpredictable to prognosticate.
Juxtapose this Open Championship comeback with his notorious collapse at Winged Foot in 2006 and you have Phil Mickelson: brilliant one major, baffling the next.
Coming off wins at the PGA Championship and the Masters, he push-sliced away the 2006 U.S. Open on the final hole and settled for one of his record six runner-up finishes at that event. He waited four years before securing another major title at the 2010 Masters and yet another three years before winning his maiden British Open. That's two majors in a seven-year span. To assume Mickelson is going to turn around and complete the career grand slam next year, at his most frustrating major, one day before his 44th birthday, is asking a lot.
And age is certainly a factor.
Mickelson hasn't shown signs of slowing down, and his putting may be the best it's ever been. But putting comes and goes, and all athletes (even golfers) eventually hit the wall. Take Jack Nicklaus, for example. He was a great late- career golfer, but he still only captured one major after age 40 (he was 46 when he won the Masters in 1986).
The odds are against Mickelson, but his unpredictability remains the surest bet. A decade ago he had exactly zero major titles. Now he has five. He's one away from tying Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo and two away from Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Harry Vardon. Heck, he may get the sixth at the PGA Championship in August.
But will he complete the grand slam? Only five men have done so: Nicklaus, Sarazen, Tiger Woods, Gary Player and Ben Hogan.
To now, Mickelson has proven incapable of winning the U.S. Open, but there was a time when a British Open win appeared just as unlikely. So what will be his third act?
Exorcising his U.S. Open ghosts at Pinehurst would be a worthy climax. But it would be more a thrilling twist than a fitting conclusion; more Sixth Sense than storybook. Phil would be Haley Joel Osment. And we'd all be Bruce Willis.