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Sport19th hole: Phil Mickelson, more older players thriving raises concerns for PGA Tour Champions

23:45  24 march  2019
23:45  24 march  2019 Source:   golfweek.com

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Woods-Reed-Simpson highlight Players featured groups The PGA Tour announced several featured groups for The Players on Sunday, including a grouping of Tiger Woods, reigning Masters champ Patrick Reed and defending Players champ Webb Simpson. Woods has cracked the top 20 in each of his first three starts this year, but he abruptly withdrew from Bay Hill on Monday while citing a neck strain and stating that he “hoped” to be ready for the Stadium Course. Reed’s best finish in five Players appearances is a T-22 two years while Simpson cruised to a four-shot win last year. Another featured group includes Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and 2012 Players champ Matt Kuchar.

19th hole: Phil Mickelson, more older players thriving raises concerns for PGA Tour Champions© USA TODAY USA TODAY Golf is the rare sport in which age and guile can compete against youth and raw power. In the past month, 56-year-old Vijay Singh played his way into the final group at the Honda Classic while Jim Furyk finished second in the deepest field of the year at the Players Championship, just a few weeks shy of turning 49. They provided a welcome diversion from golf''s fixation on young colts, allowing us to appreciate again a pair of aging stallions who are just one stumble away from the glue factory.

Veterans have frequently authored unexpected final chapters to their PGA Tour careers, most famously Sam Snead, who was 52 when he won his 82nd and last title in 1965. Snead's record as the Tour's oldest winner still stands, but for how much longer?

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Davis Love III was 51 when he won the Wyndham Championship in 2015, while even short hitters like Fred Funk and Craig Stadler had victories after turning 50. Creaky legends like Greg Norman, Tom Watson and Bernhard Langer all set aside their AARP newsletters to challenge in majors.

Thrilling runs by wily old men lend a welcome subplot to the PGA Tour, which is increasingly the province of kids who hit it 300-plus yards despite being so skinny they'd have to run around the shower to get wet. But veteran players remaining competitive against young 'uns raises more bothersome concerns for the PGA Tour Champions.

The Celebrex circuit will face a major moment of truth on June 16, 2020, the day Philip Alfred Mickelson turns 50 years old.

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In February, at age 48, Mickelson won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am. At 47, he took obvious delight in schooling Justin Thomas - a man almost half his age - in a playoff at the WGC Mexico Championship. The 44-time Tour winner relishes his stature and the chance to compete against younger opponents. He's unlikely to get fired up at the prospect of riding a cart to a shootout with Scott McCarron.

Mickelson's 50th birthday falls during the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. He probably still believes he can win there, and so may be disinclined to honor the USGA with his presence one week later for the U.S. Senior Open at Newport Country Club. Eschewing the senior set may be the right call for him.

Age is irrelevant to competitiveness, insists the most enduring legend in recent memory, Tom Watson, who in 2009 was one putt away from winning the Open Championship at 59. "There is no particular reason that age should be a great factor in performance, until the body can't produce the clubhead speed that is necessary to compete on the regular Tour," Watson says. "Once that speed is reduced, it's time to play on the PGA Tour Champions."

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Mickelson's measured clubhead speed in 2019 is faster than it has been in more than a decade. He can still compete at the Tour's biggest ballparks. Lesser mortals, like Furyk, are reduced to a mere handful of venues each year where they can have a reasonable expectation of success. But that chance, however slender, to burnish a legacy may be enough to keep guys out there.

"We view PGA Tour Champions players remaining competitive on the PGA Tour as a positive," says Miller Brady, the recently-appointed President of the senior tour. "The ability to compete after turning 50 shines a light on just how great these guys are and provides a glimpse into what we know is an exciting PGA Tour Champions product."

Brady is correct, up to a point.

An over-50 player who is competitive on the PGA Tour will only drive interest in the Champions tour if he's actually playing out there too. Mickelson might face subtle pressure to support the senior circuit with occasional appearances, but he has no urgency to seek safe harbor among his greying contemporaries. Unlike, for example, Ernie Els, who has logged just one top-10 finish on the regular Tour since 2015. Els turns 50 in October.

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Mickelson is an indefatigable pitchman, and his clubs frequently still put him center stage. But with each passing year he is a little more reliant on gimmicks to draw attention, like dress shirts on the golf course and money matches against Tiger. Some day his main platform will be the PGA Tour Champions, but that Tour's executives cannot find it an appealing prospect that the world's best 50-year-old might consider himself simply too good to play against his peers.

But hey, at least it's less than seven years until Tiger gets out there, right?

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Watch: Mickelson rolls in two balls at once on Augusta-like home green.
Phil Mickelson is prepping for the Masters Tournament by speeding up his home putting green, and having a little fun along the way.

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