Winning on the PGA Tour is hard. It’s a refrain so common you can randomly select a press conference from any given week on the PGA Tour, and the odds of coming across it are high. That doesn’t mean it’s not true.
It was certainly true on Sunday as Nick Taylor and Phil Mickelson locked horns at the 2020 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in what amounted to a two-horse race down the stretch, which Taylor ended up winning. There was turbulence in the middle, though.
After going out in 32 (!), Taylor started his back-nine hunt par, bogey, bogey, par, double and the lead was close enough to Mickelson to start feeling whatever Mickelson wanted him to feel.
There was a problem though. Mickelson (we’ll get to him in a bit) refused to take advantage, and a fading Taylor finally snapped back into form on the par-4 15th hole with this chip-in birdie. He followed it with a nasty birdie at the 17th, and the best victory lap in golf (a four-stroke lead on the last hole at Pebble Beach) was on.
The win was just the second of Taylor’s career and his first since 2014. To put this in perspective, Mickelson has nearly twice as many PGA Tour wins (44) as Taylor has professional top 10s on any tour (46).
He earned it, too. Winning the Sanderson Farms Championship is one thing, taking down Mickelson with a 70 in the final round at Pebble Beach when he’s the reigning champ and you’re No. 229 in the world is an entirely other thing.
“That was amazing,” Taylor told Amanda Balionis of CBS Sports. “Up and down day. I believed I could do it because I’ve done it before, but to do it in that fashion playing with Phil, obviously gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
Winning is hard, and it rarely comes easy. It didn’t on Sunday even if the end result was a big margin of victory. A lot of confidence going forward, and a day on the Pacific Ocean that Taylor will remember for a long, long time.
Here are the rest of our grades for the 2020 Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Phil Mickelson (3rd): If we’re honest, Sunday was less about what Taylor did and more about what Mickelson didn’t do. With the tournament right there in front of him — an opportunity to go back to back at Pebble and get the 45th win of his career — he leaked oil the entire way home. So much oil that one had to wonder if Mickelson, ever the opportunist, was trying to soil Carmel Bay, artificially drive down real estate prices and then make a play on a few properties next week.
With his playing partner (and leader of the event) Taylor in equally dire straits, Mickelson shot 38 on the back nine on Sunday. The biggest loss wasn’t even that he didn’t win. The biggest loss was that Mickelson, ranked 86th just a few weeks ago, had a real chance to get back into the top 50 and into the upcoming WGCs, but Kevin Streelman clipped him by a stroke and pushed him into that third-place finish. Mickelson is moving in the right direction, but it could have been a lot better. Grade: A
Jason Day (4th): It was a week for guys who hadn’t done much of late. Day joined the crew by finishing fourth after notching just one top 10 since the end of the 2019 Masters (at last year’s Travelers Championship). Many people have made the joke, but the pace of play at these slogging, tedious pro-ams is perfect for Day, who has said before that he wants to take every second he’s allowed before hitting a shot.
The Australian’s career has been an interesting one. He obviously has plenty of game from tee to green, but his best work was built on the back of an elite putter. He’s no longer the best putter in the world by a wide margin, and the result is what happened this weekend. He can be No. 3 in the field from tee to green (which he was) but struggle with the flat stick and shoot a 75 on Sunday to fall out of contention. Still, it’s good to see him mixing it up after so little contention in the last year. Grade: A
Jordan Spieth (T9): Signs of life! Spieth shot a round-of-the-day 67 on Sunday to move up 46 spots on the leaderboard and potentially back into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings when they come out later on Sunday evening. This is a big deal because — like Mickelson — he was on the outside looking in for some of the upcoming WGC events, in which he can catapult himself back into the top 30 or so in the world. The numbers are kind of incredible with Spieth, too. He hit it better than anyone else in the field from tee to green on Sunday, and most of that damage was done after his tee shot. Despite ranking 64th in the field off the tee, Spieth finished first in the field in strokes gained tee to green and fired the best round of anybody playing on Sunday. Did it finally click? Time will tell but at least the possibility is there. Grade: A-
Patrick Cantlay (T11): He was my pick to win this week at Pebble, and I felt even more confident after that 66 in the first round. He followed with a 69 in Round 2, and then played the first 12 holes in Round 3 at Pebble at 2 under. There he was at 10 under, primed to close out the last six at one of the most famous courses in the world and slither his way into one of the final groups on Sunday. Instead, he made two bogeys in the last six holes and stayed on the edge of contention for the remainder of the tournament. His floor is so high right now — top five in two of his last three events — and I’m curious to see if he’s made a mini-leap into being one of the five best guys in the world in 2020. Grade: B+