2018 WGC-Mexico leaderboard: Thomas nearly pulls off impossible vs. Mickelson
We got an incredible shootout between two of the best in the business on Sunday in Mexico
Phil Mickelsonover Justin Thomas for the third WGC victory of his career and first overall win since 2013. Mickelson shot 65-66 on the weekend and won with a par on the first playoff hole. It was his first victory in almost five years; however, it was his fourth consecutive top-10 finish.
That's a remarkable number, and it highlights the run of consistency Mickelson (of all people!) has been on in the last few weeks and months. Does that mean anything for Augusta and the Masters in a month? I don't know. Oftentimes you see heaters culminate with wins then die off shortly thereafter. But I do know that Mickelson thinks he's playing as well as he's ever played in his life, and with Lefty sometimes that's half the battle.
Mickelson's win also overshadowed the outrageous show Thomas put on over the weekend. After he shot a 1-over 72 on Thursday and trailed leader Louis Oosthuizen by seven, he opined that his game had never felt farther away.
"It's probably the worst I've ever felt over the ball in my life," said Thomas. "It's a helpless feeling just because it's a course that you feel like you can score, make a lot of birdies on. I really kind of started on Tuesday, I was hitting balls, wasn't swinging it very well, and then yesterday I just was hitting it awful."
Then on Friday, after he shot a 1-under 70 and trailed Shubhankar Sharma (!) by 11 (!), he didn't say anything. Still, you had to think that an even-par score of 142 through two rounds and a T38 position was well out of position to finish in the top five, much less win the golf tournament. You would be wrong.
Thomas blitzed the field on Saturday with a course record 62, but he was still saving the best for last (literally). During Sunday's final round, Thomas birdied five of the first 12 holes and six of the first 15 before making a bogey at the par-3 17th. That he went to the 18th hole on Sunday in the thick of the tournament at all was a stunner, but what happened after that was an absolute revelation.
Following his near-hole out eagle at PGA National last week at the Honda Classic on the 72nd hole, Thomas did the deed this time around, and it nearly won him his first WGC. He lost on the first playoff hole, but his play over the final 36 holes had him fired up about the future.
"It's a bummer," Thomas told NBC of the loss to Mickelson. "If you would have told me I'd be in a playoff after two rounds, I would have told you you were lying. I played unbelievable golf these last two days. I'm probably more proud of myself than I ever have been."
Thomas also spoke six words that I think we were all thinking after watching the 47-year-old Mickelson win for the 43rd time of his career. "I'm really happy for Phil." What an ending, and what a tournament. Grades (for Mickelson and Thomas): A+
Dustin Johnson (T7): D.J. lurked every day but never made a true move at the top of the board. But you can now say that Johnson has been defeated by 23 golfers this year in five events. That's ridiculous. Grade: A-
Sergio Garcia (T7): I thoroughly enjoyed Sergio this week. He finished in the top five in the field in strokes gained on approach shots, even though he lost strokes to the field on Saturday and Sunday. That's almost impossible to do! This course is so great for him, or at least it looks great. Nobody shapes the ball like Garcia does, and he gets to put that on full display between the trees lining these fairways.
Garcia actually also putted it pretty well this week, but he was a mess around the greens, finishing outside the top 50 in strokes gained in that category. It's admittedly a tough course to play when you don't find the short stuff, but even an average week there could have led to a victory for Garcia. Grade: A-
Bubba Watson (T9): I listed Watson to mention that I'm fired up that we have him back in the mix in general on the PGA Tour. I saw everything this week. A 59 watch. Frustration and anger and lots of pointing on missed short putts. The full Bubba experience. If you don't think the PGA Tour is better off with Watson contending for events then I don't know what to tell you. Grade: B
Shubhankar Sharma (T9): How much fun was this kid this week? Somehow the moment never seemed too big for him. Even though he couldn't seal the deal, it wasn't because he fell off the map or threw up all over himself coming home. He just didn't have the goods on the weekend, and it's never ideal to not have the goods when Thomas and Mickelson are feeling it.
Still, Sharma proved to everyone in the field (and maybe most importantly, himself) that his recent rise in the world rankings is not a fluke. He might not have the consistency to remain as a top player on either the European Tour or PGA Tour, but the talent and the nerve is definitely in there. I was rooting for him the whole way because, as various people pointed out, to become a sports star in a place like India can change your live (and others') forever. Grade: A+
Rickie Fowler (T37): I'm maybe one tournament away from being officially concerned about my early Masters pick. Fowler has been out of sorts at three of his last four events, and this week's issue was mostly putting. Fowler finished No. 62 in a field of 64 with the flat stick.
That's normally his bread and butter, and it let him down in Mexico. So there are two ways to look at that. The first is that Fowler won't be able to remotely match his No. 2 ranking in strokes gained putting in 2016-17 and he'll struggle throughout 2018. The second is that he's striking the ball unbelievably and his putting will rebound to the mean (which could mean some wins in his near future). His career arc tells me he's an above average putter who's somewhat struggling on the young season so I'm betting on the latter. Grade: C
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