Phil Mickelson says that just like every other player he takes one shot at a time – and one hole at a time – but tries to avoid such cliches when asked to comment on his performances. At the 83rd USPGA Championship, which he ultimately lost to a resilient fighter in David Toms, there was more evidence of the 31-year-old left-hander getting ahead of himself.
Mickelson is desperate to make his major breakthrough, as David Duval did at the Open. Duval learned at Lytham that he did not have to be at his very best to win and that pressing too hard had held him back in the past. It is a lesson Mickelson still has to learn.
His aim at the Atlanta Athletic Club was not just to win, but "to win by a number". Of the final round, when three times he tied with Toms but then fell back, he said: "I felt like if I could get a one-up lead that would change the momentum but I was just never able to get ahead.
"The frustrating part is that I am not just trying to win a major championship, I am trying to win a bunch of majors, but I just can't get through the first one."
Mickelson drew level with Toms for the last time in typical fashion, by chipping in at the par-three 15th. But on the very next hole, his drive hit a tree and left him with a long approach shot. He found the green but 45 feet from the hole. He charged the putt six feet past and missed the tricky downhiller back.
"I had five people in the crowd telling me how slow it is on that first putt up the hill and I tried to block it out of my mind but it hit my subconscious," Mickelson said. "I just gave it that little bit extra."
Mickelson was still one behind playing the 490-yard 18th hole. One of the most aggressive players on the circuit, he was to lose to a player making a par after laying up for the second time. In 1999 at the US Open, Payne Stewart did just that and that moment flashed through Mickelson's mind as Toms did the same.
There are times when laying up, not going for a carry, is a sign of weakness, and times when it is exactly the right thing to do. Toms felt this was one of the latter after his drive finished only just in the first cut of rough but leaving him 210 yards to carry the lake in front of the green.
"I had a three-iron yardage but I knew I could not stop the ball on the green," Toms said. "I pulled out the five-wood and started thinking about that but the best I could do was hit it over the green and then have a chip back towards the water.
"I said to my caddie: 'What about laying up?' I had a perfect yardage for my L-wedge, so I could spin it. I had 88 yards to go and it could not have set up any better."
He hit his third to 12 feet and, after Mickelson's 30-footer for birdie came up two inches short, he holed the par-putt.
"The first thing I thought about laying up was that if he hits the green and makes birdie, I could go from being one shot up to losing the tournament right there. But I had said all week that I would not be afraid to lay up if that was a good shot. I had a bad lie in the rough, sidehill, downhill which translates to a low hook with no spin on it. I figured my best chances of making a par was to lay up.
"I hated doing it. I knew the crowd were moaning and you get the vibes that they think you are a wimp but I just put that out of my mind and it worked out."
Toms, 34, jumped from 14th place on the Ryder Cup standings to fifth to knock out Tom Lehman from the 10 automatic places.
Curtis Strange, the American captain, liked what he saw. "David has won six times now after being in contention seven times," Strange said. "He is a Sunday player and that is what you need in the Ryder Cup. He is going to thrive on the atmosphere. He might look like he is still only 19 years old but he has intestinal fortitude."
When Toms missed a second tiny putt in three holes at the 12th, a spectator started clapping. "I glared at him because for someone to do that to me in the middle of trying to win the PGA Championship was totally uncalled for. I was hot under the collar but my caddie said to leave those people alone and do our own thing."
Toms will have to deal with more, and worse, at The Belfry but responded the right way with birdies at the next two holes. "I wanted to earn my way on to the team by making it on points," Toms said. "It is something I really wanted to do, to represent my country, and I am looking forward to getting to know the other players as well."Reuse content