Mickelson wins PGA TOUR Champions debut

There was something so Mickelsonian about what happened at the Bass Pro Shops Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri this week as fearless Phil went wire-to-wire to become the 20th player to win in his PGA TOUR Champions debut at the Charles Schwab Series at Ozarks National.

The winning itself was like him; he has 44 PGA TOUR titles. But so was the way he did it.

Wearing what ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt calls his Cartman sunglasses, Mickelson swung from the heels at sumptuous Ozarks National, and shot an opening 10-under 61 with a bogey on a par 5. In round two, after showing front-nine highlights, the Golf Channel went live to Mickelson as he looked for his ball in waist-high fescue at the 10th. It was classic Phil whiplash, and while he never found the ball, he saved bogey. Under threatening skies and with the tee times moved up in round three, he drove the green and eagled the fifth hole, opening up a five-shot lead.

That Mickelson cooled off and carded a final-round 66 to finish 22 under, four better than runner-up Tim Petrovic (66) , didn’t quite recall his 13-shot victory at the 2006 BellSouth Classic, but the win was impressive nonetheless.

“I wasn’t as sharp the back nine,” Mickelson said. “I got off to a good start, though, fortunately to build enough cushion. … I really enjoyed seeing all the guys again, seeing how they were so accommodating and fun. It’s fun for me to compete. I got to shoot scores and compete.

“There was a lot of good,” he added, “and there were things I identified I’ve got to work on.”

This was all made possible because Mickelson missed the cut at THE NORTHERN TRUST at TPC Boston last Friday, ensuring he would miss this week’s BMW Championship for the first time since the FedExCup Playoffs began in 2007. But he turned lemons into lemonade.

“It was a good course for me,” Mickelson said, noting that Ozarks National’s relatively wide fairways allowed him to exploit a length advantage that was at times stark.

Mickelson will now try to emulate two of his elders, Fred Funk and Craig Stadler, both of whom won on the PGA TOUR after winning on PGA TOUR Champions.

“Confidence no matter where it comes from is always good,” Funk texted from Ozarks National, where he shot a final-round 72 to finish 4 over and well back.

In other words, sometimes winning can bleed over from one tour to the next.

Stadler won the 2003 B.C. Open – his last of 13 PGA TOUR wins – a week after he’d captured the Ford Senior Players Championship. “And all of a sudden I learned how to play again,” he said. “It’s the magical number. Get a good bottle of wine, turn 50 and you start playing well.”

Always a late-bloomer, Funk, also 50, took a break from PGA TOUR Champions to capture the 2007 Mayakoba Golf Classic, the last of his eight PGA TOUR victories. “I think I validated how good the players are on the Champions Tour,” he said at the time.

Mickelson is expected to only dabble on the 50-and-over circuit, at least for now. He believes he is still plenty competitive on the PGA TOUR, and the facts back him up. He tied for second, three back, at the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational earlier this month. He won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am last year, and the WGC-Mexico Championship the year before that. So the regular TOUR is where he will continue to play.

This makes Mickelson different from some others who won their first Champions start; Lanny Wadkins, calling the action at Ozarks National, said he hadn’t won in eight years when he did it. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player won in their maiden Champions starts. Jim Furyk was the most recent to do it before Mickelson, capturing the Ally Challenge earlier this month.

Mickelson will be talked about and written about even more than usual in the coming months. He plans to play in the first tournament of the new TOUR season, the Safeway Open in Napa, California, in two weeks, and then it’s back to New York and the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, where he double-bogeyed the 72nd hole and Geoff Ogilvy won in 2006.

Will he have a chance at winning this time, exorcising the demons and completing the career Grand Slam? Maybe. The Masters Tournament in November awaits after that. Mickelson, a three-time Masters champion, should figure prominently there, too.

Winning is winning, and as Mickelson proved at Big Cedar Lodge, he can still get it done.

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