PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Phil Mickelson’s face was a portrait of disappointment.
His displeasure had nothing to do with the rain that started spitting down just after he finished his second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on a raw Friday by the sea. Instead, his discontent had everything to do with how he finished the round at Spyglass Hill.
He turned a 65 into a 68 coming home as he became erratic, which led to his shoulders wilting, his walk slowing and his smile disappearing. Despite sharing the lead at day’s end, Mickelson was thinking about how he let an opportunity slip away. Just when he thought he had a chance to pull away from the field – he held a two-shot lead multiple times after 15 holes of stellar play – his wild ways pulled him back in and a special round turned into one that left a bad taste in his mouth.
A day after hitting every fairway in regulation in the first round – a rarity for the man who has sprayed the ball throughout his World Golf Hall of Fame career – Mickelson missed three consecutive strips of the short grass, winding up in the trees twice, and made bogey on each hole.
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“I hate finishing the round off like that and making three bogeys after having a pretty good round going,” Mickelson said.
A birdie on the final hole provided some spark, but as he completed his round, Mickelson looked like a man who got a call from Father Time. It was similar to how he looked at the end of last season, when, after winning for the first time since 2013, he had just one top-10 in his last 15 starts and looked like a beaten and bloodied fighter after 15 rounds.
Mickelson knows Father Time is becoming his partner and his optimistic nature is confronted from time to time. In four months he turns 49 and his opportunities to add to his victory haul of 43 PGA Tour titles and five major championships are declining, especially in a game populated by talented youngsters who have power and game and years to burn.
After winning last year’s World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, he confidently said he’d win seven more times to reach the golden number of 50. While it remains his goal, he admitted earlier this year that he’s a little more realistic in reaching that target considering the landscape and passage of time.
But Mickelson’s will to win, to remain prominent, to consistently contend, has not withered. On the day he missed the cut in last week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, Mickelson went to a local golf club and hit balls on the range for two hours.
His dedication to staving off the advancement of age, however, started months before. He hit the gym to build up his strength and explosiveness, especially in the offseason. He had a biomechanics study done and looked at the kinematic sequence of his swing to pinpoint his strengths and weaknesses. He spent hours working on his putting and iron play.
Further, he hired a nutritionist and is steadfastly adhering to a new diet. Sugar, for instance, is a no-no, and for a man who rarely said no to any dish or a second helping in the past, that takes will power.
“There are a lot of things that you can do to help your body heal, recover, and get strengthened,” Mickelson said.
His work has paid off. While he was playing poorly at the end of last season, his swing speed with the driver accelerated six miles, which is rare for someone who is 48. In his first start of this year, he opened with a 60 in the Desert Classic and finished in a tie for second, beaten by one shot and believing he left one slip away.
He let his round slip away on Friday, but he’s contending again, here in a tournament he loves and has won four times. And tomorrow he’ll wake up on the optimistic side. We’ll see how long that lasts.