PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Phil Mickelson has gotten the better of Father Time and weathered Mother Nature’s most vicious punches for four days at one of his better haunts on the PGA Tour.
He just couldn’t beat Sunday’s setting sun.
Mickelson needs to get through one more day and two more holes if he’s to make tournament history and further enhance his World Golf Hall of Fame career. He is atop the leaderboard as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. local time Monday (11 a.m. Eastern) after Crosby Weather, as it’s known in these parts, crashed the annual bash on the Monterey Peninsula.
Playing in the final group Sunday for the second time in three starts this year, Mickelson turned a three-shot deficit at dawn into a three-shot lead at day’s end with spectacular play on a chilly and windy day. With his game on point, the only thing that bothered Mickelson was the decision to halt play.
“It’s probably a good thing for us,” said Mickelson, who pleaded his case to continue despite darkness enveloping the course. “But I wanted to try to finish tonight because I’m playing well.
“It’s not over. We’ve got to finish it off, so I don’t want to jump the gun and look ahead. I’ve got two difficult holes coming up. I love playing this tournament, but I think the postponement is a good omen because of the first time I won here was ’98. We had a three-month suspension of the tournament, came back and finished the final round, and I had my first victory here.”
Mickelson stood at 18 under through 70 holes and was three shots clear of Paul Casey and Scott Stallings. Casey has a 3-foot par putt remaining on 16 before he and Mickelson make their way to the tee at the par-3 17th and then play the par-5 18th to complete the round.
Stallings finished off his round with a 6-under-par 66 to vault up the leaderboard and give himself an outside chance of victory.
But the tournament is in Mickelson’s hands. Trailing Casey by three shots, Lefty did most everything right as he made six birdies in the 16 holes he finished and didn’t put a bogey on his card.
Less than two years from his 50th birthday, the old man did his best work by the sea as he birdied from 10 feet on the fourth that overlooks Carmel Bay, then scored from a foot on the ninth and from 11 feet on the 10th, the two holes facing Stillwater Cove.
He also birdied from 6 feet on the second, 7 feet on the 13th and 6 feet on the 14th.
“I’ve had six birdies out there on a tough golf course, so there’s been a lot of good things, a lot of good putts that have gone in,” Mickelson said.
There was little good concerning the weather. Mickelson and other A-listers such as Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Bill Murray and Wayne Gretzky shared top billing this week with Crosby Weather, the moniker paying homage to Bing Crosby, who founded the tournament and turned it into his own yearly clambake.
The changing nature of the elements is a part of the event’s character, and in the first three rounds, professionals, celebrities and amateurs were confronted with mist, rain, heavy winds and bone-rattling temps. On Sunday, hail made an appearance. After overnight storms forced a one-hour delay to the start of the final round, the worst weather of the week blew in, and a hail storm left a blanket of white pebbles on Pebble Beach. Kessler Karain, Patrick Reed’s caddie, made a hail angel on the 14th fairway.
Players eventually came off the course and there was a two-hour delay. Upon their return, a glorious sun bathed the course in relative warmth.
Upon his return Monday, Mickelson will try to polish off his 44th victory on the PGA Tour. Mickelson, who won this event in 1998, 2005, 2007 and 2012, looks to tie Mark O’Meara for most tournament victories. And if he wins, it will be his 14th PGA Tour title in California, which would tie him with Tiger Woods and Billy Casper.
A victory also would validate all the work Mickelson has done to stave off the onslaught of age and remain relevant in the game he loves. He has increased his work in the gym to build his strength and explosiveness. He had a biomechanics study done and looked at the kinematic sequence of his swing to pinpoint his strengths and weaknesses. After hiring a nutritionist, he is staunchly adhering to a new diet, which is as tough as a two-way breaking putt at Augusta National for a man who rarely said no to any food offering.
On Saturday, he made the cut for the 500th time in his Tour career. On Monday, Casey said he’ll be hard pressed to keep Mickelson from his 44th title.
“There’s still a glimmer,” said Casey, who was even-par Sunday before play was halted. “I need to do something special. And obviously I need a mistake. But very good attitude. I dug deep. I was going out there to play my best.
“It’s a tough golf course, I’ve always found Pebble tough. Phil’s put together a spectacular round of golf so far. Six-under, no dropped shots, remarkable stuff.” Gwk