There is a temptation to come over all Mrs Merton when considering Phil Mickleson these days. “And, Phil, what is it that first appealed to you about the billion-dollar breakaway league?” Mickleson, of course, is not the only golfer weighing up the Saudi rebel project, but as he approaches his 51st birthday, it is understandable that pension-pot permutations might be on a chap’s mind.
There is little doubt that the five-time Major winner is one of the poster (grand) dad targets for the putative new movement, a global figure with clout and class to offer. Mickelson still brings kudos to an event even if there has been no top-10 finish in a major since he finished runner-up to Henrik Stenson at the 2016 Open at Royal Troon. But is that about to change? Could he? Surely not?
Any diminishing on-course status was given a real boost on Saturday when the Californian made a quick entry into the co-leader ranks with a birdie on his second hole of the day (the 11th).
It was an early, invigorating push towards the unfamiliar turf of the top of the leaderboard, a roll of the dice for a man who likes a punt. The wheel kept turning in his favour despite successive bogey hiccups around the turn, a hot streak of five birdies in eight holes on the back nine teeing up the 2005 PGA Champion for a tantalising weekend of splendid, unheralded possibility.
Mickelson started the day on two under and carded a three-under 69 to put him right up amongst the big boys. Roll back that stone from the seeming dead, there is plenty of life in the old codger yet. There was a broad smile on Mickelson’s weathered face as his final birdie dropped, a fist-bump as the hollering crowd erupted. The Roar on the Shore told its own tale.
Mickelson is box office in that he is always prepared to take on the flag. He has the touch and he has the cojones. Such bravado did threaten to destabilise him when he splashed into the drink on the 13th, a costly error after just moving into a share of the lead. But he was not to be denied as his bracing run for home testified, taking him to the clubhouse lead.
Mickleson knows, deep within, the distinction between price and value. The Super Golf League, as it has been dubbed, may have a handsome price tag on it but it will never have the historical value of an Open, a Masters or PGA Championship title. There is a huge difference between being lauded by your bank manager and being revered by posterity.
That is why Mickleson is still out there, straining sinew, focussing mind, keeping concentration, battling against anno domini, fighting the flighty, fitful, Ocean Course, repelling the young buck challengers, all for yet another shot at glory.
Titles are what really matter, not cash. Mickleson still has a career Grand Slam to tilt at and was mightily grateful to get an exemption to next month’s US Open at Torrey Pines for yet another attempt at getting his face engraved on golf’s Mount Rushmore by becoming only the sixth to win all four Majors.
There is that, there is also the Ryder Cup; with Mickleson desperate for captain Steve Stricker’s wild-card pick.
And then there is this. As one of his playing partners across the opening two days, fellow veteran Padraig Harrington, would testify; raw, bare-knuckle competition is what stirs the soul and fires the loins. You only had to hear Mickleson’s yelp of frustration as he misjudged, if only slightly, his tee shot to the elevated green at the 8th. He got up and down to save his par before closing out in style with a 20-foot birdie.
Lefty is a contender once again.
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