By DAVE SHEDLOSKI
There was drama to the end Sunday at Pebble Beach Golf Links, even though nothing was settled.
Phil Mickelson, playing another inspired round at Pebble Beach, left the iconic golf course disappointed despite a three-stroke lead over Paul Casey and Scott Stallings with a touch more than two holes remaining. Play was suspended in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am due to darkness with Casey reluctant to continue the final round on Sunday and Mickelson insisting, several minutes after official sunset of 5:43pm, local time, that he “could see just fine”.
What he likely could see clearly was him closing in on his fifth win in the tournament and the 44th of his US PGA Tour career. At 48, he is on his way to becoming the oldest champion in tournament history, surpassing Steve Lowery, who was 47 when he triumphed there in 2008. He also would have wins in consecutive seasons after going nearly five years without a victory and could atone for a missed chance last month when he was stunned by rookie Adam Long in the Desert Classic after beginning the final round with a two-stroke lead.
But he has to finish it off. Which was something he seems primed to do after playing 16 holes in six-under par without a bogey. Now he has to wait until 5am NZDT tomorrow when play resumes.
“Yeah, it’s been a great day so far,” said Mickelson, a Californian who has deep ties to the area, courtesy of his grandfather, Al Santos, one of the original caddies at Pebble Beach. “It’s not over. We’ve got to finish it off, so I don’t want to jump the gun and look ahead. I’ve got two difficult holes coming up and it’s been a great day so far.”
“Phil’s put together a remarkable round of golf,” said Casey, who began the day with a three-shot lead but was even-par and yet again might be victimised by a low round from an opponent.
Stallings, who hasn’t won since the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open, made a closing birdie on the 18th hole well before the horn sounded to finish off a six-under 66 and was in the house at 15-under 272.
Mickelson, Casey and Casey’s amateur partner, 13-handicapper Don Colleran of FedEx, are the only players still on the course. Casey and Colleran are one stroke ahead of Wyndham Clark and country musician Joe Don Rooney of the group Rascal Flatts in the pro-am portion of the tournament, which might also have played a role in Casey’s decision to call it a night. He faces a three-foot par putt on the 16th hole when play resumes.
As Casey was marking his ball on 16, Mickelson was standing on the par-3 17th tee with his caddie, his brother Tim. When the horn sounded at 5:55pm, Mickelson was seen shaking his head in obvious frustration.
“I get exactly where Paul’s coming from,” said Mickelson, who won his first AT&T Pebble Beach title in 1998 when the third and final round was completed seven months later, in August, after weather wreaked havoc. “It’s dark, and we’re going to have a good chance tomorrow to come out on fresh greens and have them mown. They got pretty rough this afternoon, so I totally get it. But I have pretty good vision, I can see fine, and I’m playing well, so I wanted to continue and that’s all there is to it.”
Good old-fashioned “Crosby weather” hampered this week’s tournament throughout, and Sunday’s play was plagued by rain and hail that caused delays of two hours, seven minutes. Casey and Mickelson were scheduled to begin the final round at 9:50am, local time, but were delayed until 1:09pm.
Even then, they almost finished.
Making just his third appearance in the tournament, Casey, 41, struggled on the bumpy poa annua greens while Mickelson looked comfortable in the chilly and breezy seaside air. The Englishman held the lead until Mickelson pulled even with birdies at the ninth and 10th, and then gave the left-hander breathing room with bogeys at 11 and 12. Mickelson stretched the lead to three strokes with another birdie at 13 from seven feet and retained the margin by sinking a six-foot birdie putt after Casey finally found the range from 14 feet from the left fringe.
Mickelson’s performance had to feel like the recurrence of a bad dream for Casey, who was not able to hold the 54-hole lead in his past three attempts, all with multiple-shot margins. The last was the 2018 Travelers when he led by four strokes but shot two-over 72 and was passed by Bubba Watson, who fired a 63.
Now trailing significantly, he knows he has nothing to lose on Monday morning and planned to be aggressive in search of his third tour title.
“I genuinely couldn’t see my putt there on 16,” Casey said. “[PGA Tour official] Mark Russell gave us the option to finish, which is why I marked it. So, hopefully, I can see what I’ve got for par, knock that one in, and then I’m going to smash it straight at it. Be aggressive on 17. And I played 18 beautifully on Thursday, good drive and hit a 3-iron into 20 feet, 15 feet. I’m going to try and do the same. And really I need to go kind of minimum birdie, birdie or birdie, eagle, and that might not be good enough, but that’s the plan.”
Mickelson wasn’t making any plans, rebuffing questions about looking ahead. “I know a lot can happen in these two holes,” he said, “and they have happened in the past, so I want to stay focused and just come out tomorrow and try to finish it off. I wish we could do it tonight.”
Not getting to finish was the only time all day he wasn’t in control of things.