GULLANE, Scotland — On Tuesday afternoon Phil Mickelson spent 25 minutes at the podium chatting with the media, but when assessing Mickelson's chances this week at the 142nd Open Championship, one question matters more than the rest, and it isn't about Phil — it's about you.
What do you believe?
Here's why your opinion matters: when you look at Mickelson's body of work over his last month, his season, and in his career, you'll find a stack of facts and figures that indicate this will be the week he breaks through for his first career British Open title.
And for each one of those numbers and trends that has you leaning toward Phil, there's an equally compelling counterpoint that suggests he's far more likely to be a non-factor. For example:
Point-Counterpoint No. 1
Mickelson will win because he's coming off a sudden-death victory at the Scottish Open for his first title in the U.K., which removed a giant gorilla from his back and instilled a newfound self-belief in his links game.
Mickelson won't win this British Open because he still misses too many critical putts, as evidenced by his nervous, three-jack bogey from 18 feet on the 72nd hole at the Scottish. (A par would've won the title in regulation.)
Castle Stuart, site of the Scottish Open, is a true links course that offers challenges (read: fast fairways, wispy rough, hidden pot bunkers) similar to those at Muirfield.
Mickelson was one of only five players in the field to break 70 during Sunday's wind-swept final round, and he rallied from his 72nd-hole blunder by hitting a brilliant pitch shot for a tap-in birdie on the first playoff hole. An interesting revelation from Mickelson's press conference was his stated confidence in his putting stroke, even on the brown, seaside greens that for years have given him fits.
"I've not putted these greens well with these little subtle nuances and rolls, with the crosswinds that come into play, as well as the strong blades of fescue grass, but I putted great last week, and more than that I've been putting well now for months, and feel like I've really keyed in on something over the last three or four years," Mickelson said. "You've seen me try the belly putter, you've seen me try different grips, and finally I believe I have kind of found the secret to my own putting and what I need to do to putt well."
When pressed to elaborate on this mysterious new flatstick tip, Mickelson quickly shut it down.
"Yeah, I tried to skip over that, because I'm not going to discuss it – I feel that I've kind of keyed in on something, and I don't really want to share."
Clearly this doesn't sound like a player who's worried about his putting.
Point-Counterpoint No. 2
Mickelson will win this British Open because he's on fire, with a whopping six top-three finishes in his last 13 starts, including two victories.
Mickelson won't win because he hasn't fully healed from the heartbreak at Merion, where he faded Sunday for his sixth runner-up finish at the U.S. Open.
Mickelson deemed his Merion near-miss the toughest loss of his career. But he is hugely popular here in Scotland and the fans got behind him during Sunday's victory, which had to offer him some measure of catharsis.
On Tuesday he sounded energized, both from his time in Scotland and by the way he handled the unpredictable course conditions at Castle Stuart.
"I've enjoyed my time over here, and having Amy and the kids here makes the week much more enjoyable. And then to start off with a victory last week feels terrific," Mickelson said. "I thought there were two things I liked about last week … the first part of the week the wind was pretty calm and we were able to play the game through the air and I played well. And then when the weather got bad on Sunday, I was also able to get the ball on the ground and still make some birdies."
Can he win titles in back-to-back weeks, with the second coming at the Open? Mickelson said it's tough but not impossible.
"It's difficult to win the week before a major and then follow it up winning the major," he said with a grin slowly forming. "But then again the last person to do it — you're looking at him."
Point-Counterpoint No. 3
Mickelson will win this British Open because in the last 50 years Muirfield has produced nothing but great champions, and Phil is worthy of joining the prestigious list. Ernie Els in 2002. Nick Faldo in '92 and 87. Tom Watson in 1980. Lee Trevino in 1972. Jack Nicklaus in 1966. Gary Player in 1959.
Mickelson won't win because he only has two top-10s in 19 career starts in this topsy-turvy, frequently windblown tournament, by far his worst record of any major. In 2002, the last time the Open came here, he finished 66th.
Browned-out, wispy, windy Muirfield is a fantastic course. Nicklaus loves it so much he gave his own track in Ohio the same moniker. Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis and Stewart Cink are all nice guys who have won claret jugs in the last decade, but they aren't the kinds of high-wattage names you'd expect to see joining the list of Muirfield champions.
Mickelson would slide seamlessly onto that ledger, but his track record in the event is dicey. Tuesday he described his relationship with links golf as "hate-love — I used to hate it and now I love it" — before acknowledging that he views this venue as one of the two best for his game on the British Open rota.
"From an opportunity-to-win standpoint, I would say Muirfield or Troon would offer the two best chances, because of the way the holes move, it's very comfortable for me off some of the tees, getting the ball in play, as well as around the greens. I like it a lot."
In other words, Mickelson feels this week is one of the best opportunities he's ever had to win a British Open.
So, what do you believe?