Until this very sentence, you may have not known that with his share of second place at the 2015 Masters, Phil Mickelson took over the title as the tournament’s all-time earnings leader. Such whimsy usually takes a back seat to, well, everything, but especially to the coronation of a 21-year-old Jordan Spieth who steamrolled the field with a tournament-record 28 birdies. That shattered Mickelson’s old mark of 25 birdies during the 2001 edition when the World Golf Hall of Famer finished third, but Spieth still has a ways to go to reach the 45-year-old’s $7.696 million at Augusta National alone. (Mickelson passed Tiger Woods, who finished T17 last year, but has “just” $7.360 million on the board.)
Mickelson’s haul in the season’s first major by itself would rank 197th in all-time earnings on the PGA TOUR. The natural skew of inflation renders the fact meaningless, but it still a fun way to define his success. In 23 starts, Mickelson has three wins and another eight top-fives. He has yet another four top-10s. Judging from his takeaway from a T13 at the Shell Houston Open on Sunday, he’s poised to tack on to his record in a big way.
“At Augusta, you have to step on the driver, and so I hit a lot more drivers here this week than I would if I were really focused on trying to win this week,” he said following a 3-under 69 on the Golf Club of Houston’s Tournament Course. “I’m more focused about hitting shots for next week.”
“I love playing the week before because you get competitive, but I didn’t make the smartest play. My course management for this course isn’t going to be great. The shots that I was playing this week are going to set up a lot better next week.”
Suffice it to say that that’s one way to get comfortable.
Most Comfortable: Not everyone, as it turns out
It’s Augusta National, so what’s not to love? Actually, four recent major champions have yet to unlock the code with regularity or at all. Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Webb Simpson are a combined 11-for-24 with only two top 20s in the Masters, both of which belong to McDowell, but neither is a top 10. He’s also missed five cuts and broken par in just six of 22 rounds.
Kaymer’s drought is probably the most infamous among current stars. In eight appearances, his best finish is but a T31 (in 2014). He’s signed for a red number after just two of 22 loops. His plight was so shocking that he attempted to modify his swing to cater to Augusta National’s numerous opportunities for a right-to-left shot shape.
“If you don’t like [Augusta National], I think you have a big problem,” the right-hander said prior to the 2011 edition, his fourth. “The main problem for me was that a lot of people say, and I said it as well at the beginning, that I struggle with the draw and that is the reason that I didn’t play well here. But you can play well if you hit the ball straight.”
“But I think my problem was always that I was not sharp enough in my short game. ... I only missed the cut by one or two shots always. ... But it has nothing really do to with the draw, what I thought. Obviously you make the golf course a little bit shorter, a little bit easier, but [a substandard short game] was my problem the last few years.”
After missing the cut by five strokes that same week, he connected paydays from 2012-2014. So, it was time to revisit the conversation regarding his evolution off the tee.
“If you take a natural player or a player who draws the ball naturally, obviously he takes his natural shot as much as possible, and that’s what I’m trying to do as well,” he said in advance of last year’s Masters. “But on certain holes, you don’t have an option. And I hit the draw and it worked out very well the last couple years.”
“Of course, you don’t hit every single shot the way you want it, but at least you know you can. And once in a while, it happens. It’s good.”
Alas, he went on to miss last year’s cut by five strokes as well. He hit only 20 greens in regulation in his two rounds and saved par only half of the time when he didn’t. Despite wins in two majors, THE PLAYERS and a World Golf Championship, the 31-year-old is still learning how to develop the kind of comfort with which fellow German, Bernhard Langer, has displayed for three decades. The two-time Masters champion has nine top 10s in the tournament, including a T8 just two years ago.
HORSES FOR COURSES
Selected golfers with multiple cuts made sorted by rank on the tournament's all-time money list.
Rank Player Cuts Made/Starts Top 10s Best Finish Low Round Average 1 Phil Mickelson 21/23 15 Win (x3) 65 71.09 3 Ángel Cabrera 12/16 6 Win 66 72.05 4 Bubba Watson 7/7 2
Win (x2) 67 71.86 5 Adam Scott 12/14 4
Win 66 72.29 6 Jordan Spieth 2/2 2
Win 64 69.13 8 Vijay Singh 18/22 6 Win 65 72.63 10 Ernie Els 16/21 6 2nd (x2) 66
72.11 11 Lee Westwood 13/16 5 2nd
67 (x3) 72.50 13 Justin Rose 10/10 3
2nd 67 (x3) 72.00 16 Zach Johnson 7/11 2 Win 68 (x3) 73.00 18 Bernhard Langer 23/32 9 Win (x2) 66 72.63 26 Ian Poulter 10/11 3 T6 67 (x2)
72.29 31 Sergio Garcia 12/17 3 T4 66 (x2) 72.86 35
Matt Kuchar 8/9 3 T3 68 (x4) 72.15 38 Rory McIlroy 6/7 2 4th 65 71.85 39 Paul Casey 6/9 3 T6 (x2) 68 (x4) 72.80 40 Brandt Snedeker 6/8 2 T3 68 (x2) 72.57 43 Hunter Mahan 6/9 3 T8 66 72.23
Sorted by best finish, selected golfers who are either finally finding form on the course or are still relatively new to the tournament but have enjoyed some success.
Player Cuts Made/Starts
Best Finish Low Round Louis Oosthuizen 3/7 P2 (2012) 68 Jason Day 4/5 T2 (2011) 64 Hideki Matsuyama 3/4 5th (2015) 66 Rickie Fowler 5/5 T5 (2014) 67 (x2) Dustin Johnson 5/6 T6 (2015) 67 (x2) Jimmy Walker 2/2 T8 (2015) 70 (x3) Charley Hoffman 2/2 T9 (2015) 67 Kevin Na 3/5 T12 (2012, 2015) 66 Bill Haas 6/6 T12 (2015) 68 Ryan Moore 6/7 T12 (2015) 66 Henrik Stenson 7/10 T14 (2014) 68
OTHER SIGNS OF COMFORT
Sorted by most recent top 10s, selected golfers for whom it's been a few years since their last.
Player Cuts Made/Starts Top 10s Last Best Finish Marc Leishman 1/3 1 2013 (T4) T4 Charl Schwartzel 5/6 1 2011 (Win) Win Trevor Immelman 9/13 2 2008 (Win) Win Mike Weir 11/16 2 2005 (T5) Win Davis Love III 14/19 6 2004 (T6) 2nd (x2)