Tiger Woods was PGA Tour player of the year, Adam Scott was global golfer of the year and Henrik Stenson was the champion of the year on two tours. Phil Mickelson, however, was the story of the year in 2013.
“For me, personally, the British Open is the greatest accomplishment I could ever get in my career because of the shots that I had to learn and the challenge that it created for me over the course of my career,” Mickelson said in the aftermath of his closing 66 at Muirfield that left the rest of the field in his wake. “It was so difficult for me to play my best golf in the British Open under those conditions … to win that is the greatest accomplishment for me in my career.”
The victory in Scotland gave Mickelson the third and most unlikely leg of his quest to become the sixth golfer to win the “Career Slam.” It only amplified his frustration at the U.S. Open, where last June he yielded a 54-hole lead to Justin Rose and finished second in his national championship for a record sixth time.
It was an impressive turnaround that separated his major season from the others.
“In a matter of a month to turn it around, it really feels amazing,” Mickelson said. “I thought that it could go either way. You have to be resilient in this game, because losing is such a big part of it. And after losing the U.S. Open, it could have easily gone south, where I was so deflated I had a hard time coming back.
“But I looked at it and thought I was playing really good golf. I had been playing some of the best in my career and I didn’t want it to stop me from potential victories this year. And I’m glad I didn’t, because I worked a little bit harder. And in a matter of a month I’m able to change entirely the way I feel.”
The career slam is so at the forefront for Mickelson that at his first news conference of 2014 he was asked about this year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, where in 1999 he earned his first runner-up finish, to Payne Stewart. “June is a little bit far away,” Mickelson answered.
His longtime caddie and friend, Jim “Bones” Mackay, laughed at the thought of Mickelson looking ahead.
“When you talk about things that could never, ever, ever happen in life, one of them is Phil Mickelson looking past the Masters. There’s as good a chance of that happening as the Chargers being in the Super Bowl and him deciding not to watch.”
Mickelson’s priority has been getting his game in order for Augusta. He tweaked his early-season schedule – dropping events where he’s won such as Riviera and Bay Hill and adding stops such as PGA National – and his results were inconsistent.
“I’m still a little rusty,” he said at Doral. “I have not been mentally that sharp, and so to play better each day has been good for me … But with Augusta right around the corner, it’s time to get going.
“My game is starting to feel better, even though my results this year haven’t shown it. But I feel close, and so I’m not overly concerned.”