Phil Mickelson’s career is at a crossroads

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Perhaps it’s an exaggeration to say Phil Mickelson is in no-man’s land right now. But there’s little question his brilliant career is at a crossroads.

Mickelson, who will turn 51 in June, on Saturday was playing the weekend at the Players Championship for only the second time in the past eight years.

He shot a 1-under 71 Saturday and stands at 2-under for the tournament, far from contention to win, but with enough positives to cling to as he tries to find his game.

Mickelson, in both his second and third rounds, produced vintage Phil-being-Phil cards. Friday at TPC Sawgrass featured a five-hour rollercoaster ride that included six birdies, three bogeys, one triple bogey and eight pars. On Saturday, Mickelson had just nine pars to go with five birdies and four bogeys.

Mickelson made the cut at Sawgrass just once in the previous seven years: in 2017, when he finished tied for 41st.

It’s sometimes difficult to believe Mickelson won the Players in 2007 considering the relationship between his sometimes-volatile game and Pete Dye’s diabolical Stadium Course is as combustible as the Kanye West-Kim Kardashian marriage was.

Mickelson recently fell out of the top-100 in the latest World Golf Ranking for the first time since 1993. That ended a record streak of 1,425 weeks he was on the list, a remarkable achievement of performance, consistency and staying power.

Mickelson entered this week ranked 101st in the world, down from 66th at the start of the year.

“I really haven’t thought about it, to be honest,’’ Mickelson said of his top-100 streak ending. “It was a cool run.’’

The tumble in the rankings has left Mickelson on the outside looking in at some events that have been staples on his schedule for years — like the World Golf Championship events. He wasn’t qualified for the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession two weeks ago and he’s not qualified for the WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay in two weeks.

Missing four cuts and finishing tied for 53rd, 55th and 76th since the U.S. Open in September will do that kind of damage to a world ranking.

Mickelson’s slump, coupled with the fact that he’s now 50 years old, undoubtedly have left him feeling like he’s being left behind by the top-end competitors: Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy and others.

Mickelson has spent the better part of the past two decades as one of the top dogs on the PGA Tour and that status has been displaced as his results have sagged. It has left him in a quandary: Should he play more Champions Tour events even though he still fancies himself as capable of being one of the best in the game?

All of this has messed with Mickelson’s mind, which has been a strength of his because of his famously optimistic outlook.

You get the feeling that Mickelson, who has gotten used to being one of the biggest stars in the game, is battling to remain relevant. His body language suggests he’s a bit out of sorts that his game is not where he’s used to having it.

“I haven’t played well lately, and I just want to play well,’’ Mickelson said. “There’s nothing physically inhibiting me from playing good golf. I feel as good and as strong and as healthy as I’ve ever been, and I have no reason why I cannot play at the highest level again. But I haven’t been as sharp mentally, and I’m going to work on that.

“It’s always come kind of pretty easily for me to visualize and play fearless and see the shot clearly, and when that’s not happening easily and you actually have to sit down and work on it, it is a challenge. I’ve been mentally making the game harder than it is. I just need to fix that, just think a little bit better.’’

Mickelson, a 44-time PGA Tour winner who has five major championships, last won at the 2019 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He had a runner-up finish and a third place in 2020.

He has begun to dabble on the Champions Tour, winning in his first two tries last year and playing in one event this year. It’s clear, though, that he believes he can still be a factor on the PGA Tour, that he has one more run in him, maybe even another major.

“My motivation is more of an intrinsic motivation where I just enjoy it because I enjoy a challenge,’’ he said. “I’m optimistic that I’m going to start playing to my expectations again.’’

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