Golf Magazine

Is Phil Mickelson a Streaky Player?

By Theteesheet @theteesheet

Phil May be a Good Bet This Week But Not For The Reason You Think

Phil shot an amazing 60 last Thursday on his way to a wire-to-wire win last week in Phoenix. If you missed the putt for 59, it really should have dropped.

He's hot and has momentum and should be a heavy favorite this week at Pebble Beach ... right? Well, maybe not.

Iis reasonable to believe that Mickelson would be a very good bet this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Naitonal Pro-Am. He's hot and has won this event 4 times in the past, including last year. You can't be more solid than that and the odds reflect this. He is generally a co-favorite with Dustin Johnson at 8-1 in Las Vegas. 8-1, which actually seems like reasonable odds.

Or do they?

Phil clearly has a reputation as a streaky player both on the course and during stretches of the season. This near-59 shows how hot he can get in a round. We also likely remember him winning his second Masters a week after winning the then Bell South in 2006 and before that, winning Phoenix and the AT&T at Pebble in 2005 in consecutive weeks.

But 2006 was over 6 full golf seasons ago and those were the peak years of a golfer of Mickelson's caliber (as shown in my article comparing Vijay Singh and Barry Bonds. That article provided charts of wins by age in comparison to Singh and other 24+ PGA Tour event winners. Click here for a look at Mickelson's chart) 

The Past Five Years: Phil Wins More Often After He Misses the Cut

In the past five season before 2013, Mickelson has won an impressive 11 times; but, he has never won the following week. In fact, over the past five years, two of his wins have come after being cut (and another a week after a T55). This is not to say he is better after missing the cut. It would seem that 11 occurances is not a big enough sample size. However, it is worthwhile to consider how he plays the when he plays consecutive weeks.

If one were to look at top five finishes over the past 5 years, one might think Mickelson is a streaky player. In the past 5 years, he has finished tied for 5th or better 12 times and then played the following week. In those following weeks, Phil finished in the top ten four times for an apparaently impressive follow-up week at least 33.3% of the time.  However, 33.3% is not that unique for Mickelson who has finished T10 or better 33.9% of the time in all PGA Tour events over that same time period and over the past 10 years, he has finished T10 or better 35.5% of the time. 

In other words, Mickelson does not appear to play any better because he peformed well the prior week (and in fact fractionally worse).

Mickelson Wins When He's Active

The fact that Mickelson was won twice in the past 5 years the week after missing the cut raised an interesting questions. Maybe he is just better when he plays a lot, i.e. in consecutive weeks. This seems to have a more support. 

Over the past 5 years, Mickelson played in consecutive weeks 52 times on PGA Tour events (including Majors and WGC events). He has finished in the top 10 an amazing 44.23 percent of the time. If one extends that out over the past 10 years, it is even better. Over the past 10 years, he has played in consecutive weeks 96 times and finished in the top ten 47 times for an even more impressive 49% of the time.

His winning percentage the week after he plays is 9.6% over the past five years and an even better 15.6% over the past 10 years. 

A starker approach is to consider the following:  over the past ten years, Mickelson has has 19 wins and 15 of those wins have come when he has played the week before (regardless of result the prior week).

Consider ths following:


In other words, Mickelson is a better player when he plays the week prior.

The Course Makes A Difference

All this said, there are certain courses which can bring out the best in a player (as we noted that Tiger is a Hall of Famer on just three courses). Mickelson has won 4 times at Pebble Beach and even pulled off his backwards shot there once. Now, there was no video of it on out there but he does mention it while demonstrating it here.

Now it's easy to make fun of Phil's acting and somewhat strained enthusiasm at the beginning of this video. What is really amazing is that he actually did a video over 20 years ago on the backwards shot when he just turned pro. It's worth just looking at how young he was and how they wore their collars up.

Why Mickelson Good Bet This Week and A Better Bet Later This Year

Thus, Mickelson should be a favorite not because he won last week, but because he played last week. The venue also helps. You may be a little concerned because he has not done well when playing the week after a win in the past five years. That is a pretty small sample size and should be not be too heavily considered.

More importantly, there will be times he does not do well and then plays the following week. The numbers above suggest that may be even a better time to pick Mickelson.

Keep that in mind the next time he misses the cut and tees it up the following week.

Douglas Han


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