Ed. note: Over seven days, GOLF.com is rolling out seven bold takes for 2017. Here’s the latest installment by GOLF.com’s Josh Berhow, on why Phil Mickelson’s sixth major title is right around the corner.
Phil Mickelson will play the 2016-17 season as a 46- and 47-year-old PGA Tour veteran, but age won’t stop him from winning a major in 2017.
He hasn’t won a major (or Tour event) since the British Open at Muirfield in July 2013, but that will change in the coming months. A player with his resume, which includes 42 career Tour wins, isn’t going to get skunked for the remainder of his 40s. Mickelson is too good for that, and his recent play justifies it.
Just last year he ranked eighth on Tour in total strokes gained (1.364), ninth in strokes gained putting (.565) and fifth in strokes gained approach to green (.726). His scoring average (69.582) ranked fifth and was his best since 2008, and he was seventh in birdie average (4.06).
At this point in Mickelson’s career, the sharpie comes out and circles the same events every year. He wants to win majors; his game skyrockets on the big stage. He fired scintillating rounds of 63 and 65 at the Open at Royal Troon (where he was second to only Henrik Stenson’s marvelous display), and who could forget his 10-birdie, nine-under 63 versus Sergio Garcia in Sunday singles at the Ryder Cup?
There is a slight reason for concern since Mickelson had a second surgery to repair a sports hernia in mid-December, which followed the first operation in October. Still, it was taken care of this offseason and, assuming there are no more setbacks, Mickelson should have enough time to regain his form in the coming months. Mickelson’s spokesperson T.R. Reinman said on Monday that, “Phil is feeling fine,” but he couldn’t say with certainty if Mickelson would be ready for his next expected start, the CareerBuilder Challenge on Jan. 19-22, where Mickelson is the ambassador. Reinman added that he fully expects Mickelson to be ready for the Masters.
Speaking of the Masters, Mickelson’s missed cut at last year’s event means little. Except for a tree planted here or a tee box shifted there, Augusta National rarely changes. It’s still essentially the same course where Mickelson won three times and tied for second in 2015. He has 11 Top 10s there.
If he triumphed at Augusta, Mickelson would be the oldest Masters winner ever. Nicklaus won his 18th and final major at Augusta in 1986 at 46 years, two months and 23 days old. Mickelson, if he were to win the 2017 Masters, would be two months shy of his 47th birthday (June 16). He’d also join Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer with four green jackets apiece, tied for the second-most behind Nicklaus.
As for the other majors of 2017: U.S. Open site Erin Hills is a bit of an unknown to pros, but a victory there would allow Mickelson to complete the career grand slam. The British Open is at Royal Birkdale in England, and Mickelson finished T19 at the 2008 Open there (done in by a first-round 79). The PGA Championship will be at Quail Hallow Club in Charlotte — which has hosted a Tour event since 2003 — and it should present a golden opportunity for Mickelson. He’s played 13 events at Quail Hollow since 2004, and he has nine Top 10 and six Top 5s. He’s finished worse than T12 just twice and has never missed a cut. In three of the last four years he’s finished tied for fourth twice — the past two tournaments — and third once (he was one shot out of a playoff in 2013).
But a major motivator for Mickelson should be the return of Woods. His rival for the majority of his career, Woods’s return will steal pre-tournament headlines everywhere he goes. The prideful Mickelson doesn’t want to be an afterthought. And in 2017, he won’t be.
7 Bold Takes for 2017