RIDGEDALE, Mo. – Phil Mickelson chose to make his PGA Tour Champions debut this week at the Ozarks National in order to avoid a two-week hiatus right in the middle of his preparations for the US Open at the Winged Foot.
If he wanted to show up, Mickelson thought, he might as well win.
On Wednesday he finished 5-under 66 to 22 under, leaving Tim Petrovic three shots clear. The wire-to-wire win made Mickelson the 20th player to win the 50-over-tour on his debut, not to mention giving him some much-needed confidence after a missed cut at The Northern Trust eliminated him from the FedEx Cup Playoff.
“I loved playing here, I loved seeing the guys again, they were so accommodating and fun, and it was fun for me to compete,” said Mickelson, who plans to take 10 days off before heading to Safeway. Open for what he hopes his latest US Open prep is for. “I got scores and competed. The competition here was really strong. It was good for me to start well and compete.”
The three-round tournament in the Ozarks in southwestern Missouri could prove even more important if wildfires continue to rage in California. The Safeway Open will take place in Silverado in Napa and Mickelson has expressed the same fear as the tournament organizers that the event could be affected.
Regardless of whether he hits the court again, Mickelson’s play certainly looked sharp as he headed for the US Open.
He started the final round, which was moved to an earlier start due to approaching bad weather, with a bird on the first hole. He added another to the fourth before leading the fifth par-4 – “Damn!” he yelled, thinking his journey had ended in the bunker on the green side – and rolling in a 25 foot for an eagle.
Mickelson added three birdies in a row, taking the round to reach 23 under and jeopardizing the PGA Tour Champions 54-hole scoring record. David Frost shot 25 under at the 2010 3M Championship.
But after putting together a few par, a three-putt bogey on 14 put an end to that thought, leaving Petrovic with only three shots ahead. The longtime worker had hit 19 under with a birdie on the 14th and was starting to provide the kind of pressure Mickelson hadn’t faced all week.
Petrovic failed to make another birdie, though, and dropped a shot after a poor shot on the par-4 final hole.
“You know, sometimes you come across a circular saw,” Petrovic said. “I ran into a buzz Phil saw this week because he made a lot of birdies. I think yesterday I turned 31 on the front and I don’t think I got as hot, maybe one. Today I started back on the front and we were almost Laughing. When he was up front, he drove that part-4 – you know, he said he’s like, 340 (yard) in the air to do the eagle. We’re like, “OK, all right. That’s enough. “
The performance left PGA Tour Champions regulars with mixed feelings. They loved having the affable Mickelson playing with them this week, just like in the old days, not only for the competition but also for the increased visibility he brought to the tournament – a belated addition to the schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic.
They would also prefer not to see him anytime soon if he plans to flirt with other highscore records.
“Who would have been good enough this week with that mouse here?” Rocco Mediate asked. “It’s great to have him out. On Sunday we played a practice round (and) it actually helped me play well because you go out and play with Phil or play against Phil, you have to have him. It was fun to have a good practice round having to play because I kept wearing it. “
Kevin Sutherland finished with a 63 to finish third at 16 under. Robert Karlsson was another pulled back as Mediate was joined by Steve Stricker at 14, a full eight shots behind the new kid on the scene.
“This is hardly surprising, whatever he does,” Mediate said. “Him and Tiger (Woods), the same thing: nothing they do surprises you. And you see it here. I don’t know how many are under him, but it’s easier said than done here, you” We should win. We are really good here, he knows. And he did, he’s strong enough. “