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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Phil Mickelson's Win Brings Talk of Slowing down into Question

Even though it took a Monday morning finish, Phil Mickelson proved again why nearly everyone considers him the most consistent champion of his generation. At the age of 48, Mickelson charged on Sunday to catch and pass Paul Casey to claim his 5th AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am victory. It was his 500th PGA Tour cut made and his 44th PGA Tour win. Factor in that Mickelson has won 5 Majors since turning 33 years old and it's hard not to say Mickelson has had an amazing second-half career.

But, how much longer will Phil continue to compete?

We've already seen signs that he's begun to wind down his career. Most notably by separating from his longtime caddie Bones Mackay and deciding to skip the 2017 U.S. Open to attend his daughter's graduation. He's been quoted several times saying he's looking at the end, and yet, here he is back holding another trophy.

The trophies clearly are a factor. When Mickelson began making his public preparations for retirement he hadn't won in nearly four years. He was starting to suffer some injuries and, frankly, a few off-course issues were making life in the limelight less appealing. Then a win at the 2018 WGC-Mexico showed him and the world that the game was still there. Now, after another victory in 2019, the equation may be changing again.

He's still certainly driven to see if he can complete his Grand Slam and get a U.S. Open victory. It could still happen. A champion with his ability is almost always a threat to put together a few hot rounds and steal a tournament. But, of all the championships, the U.S. Open is clearly the most difficult for an older player to conquer. Mickelson's amazing short-game serves him well, but when they return to Pebble Beach this year for the U.S. Open, he'll need to find a way to keep the ball in the fairway in order to have a chance. Driving hasn't been Mickelson's strength and, while a straight driver served him well over the weekend, the U.S. Open will demand both straight and long drives. I'm not saying he can't. I am saying he will need everything to break his way to pull it off.

I don't believe Mickelson will play much once his game weakens to the point that he's looking to make cuts instead of winning championships. I don't see him with much interest in moving on to the PGA Tour Champions beyond a few special events. He will, almost certainly, make annual appearances at Augusta for years to come.

How much longer will he play a regular tour schedule? Hard to say. Fitness is always an unavoidable factor. Assuming his body doesn't let him down, I'd bet this latest win pushed that date off for at least an extra year.

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