One of the most extraordinary feats of golfing longevity came to an end on Saturday when Phil Mickelson missed the cut at the 100th US PGA Championship.
The left-hander has played in every Ryder Cup since 1995 and, remarkably, qualified for all 11 of them off his own merits through the automatic places.
Now, if that run is to be extended to a 12th appearance in Paris next month, the 48-year-old will need to rely on being a captain’s pick.
Phil Mickelson carded 71 and finished on four over par, missing the cut by four strokes
The qualifying process for the American team comes to an end today and Mickelson, currently 10th in the standings with the top eight making it, was desperate to keep his run going.
His astonishing consistency over a period of more than 20 years was rightly one of the things he was most proud about.
After the thunderstorms on Friday caused the second round to be completed yesterday morning, Mickelson came out with nine holes to finish and in need of three birdies to make the cut.
He got one at the 11th and now the odds appeared favourable on a perfect morning with no wind and the greens smooth, but his desperation as the putts kept slipping by became obvious, and it proved fatal at the par-three 16th, where ran up a double bogey.
His disappointment was plain. Within 10 minutes of signing his scorecard his locker had been cleared out and he left the premises without comment.
The 48-year-old has qualified via the points system and played in every Ryder Cup since 1995
RUNNERS AND RYDERS
Time is running out for Ryder Cup heroes such as Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods if they want to be lining up at Le Golf National in Paris on September 28.
After this weekend there are just three more counting events on the European Tour before Thomas Bjorn makes his four captain’s picks on September 3.
The race for the eight automatic places in the American team ends at the conclusion of the US PGA Championship.
Jim Furyk, the American captain, then chooses three wildcards on September 3 and a fourth after the BMW Championship on September 9.
The good news for him is there is a high probability he will be a recipient of captain Jim Furyk’s largesse. Furyk will name three of his four picks after a couple of the FedEx Cup play-off events on September 3, with the final one following a week later. But it will annoy Mickelson that the certainty to which he is accustomed in terms of his place has been removed.
Seven of the eight automatic spots are almost certainly booked — by Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler — but it promises to be quite a dogfight for the last one.
Webb Simpson is currently the occupant and made it to the weekend at the PGA with successive rounds of 68 to guarantee himself some more points. But a victory in the season’s final major for either of the top two at halfway, Gary Woodland or Kevin Kisner, would probably see him overtaken.
The American team have three formidable, proven pairings in team play in Spieth-Reed, Thomas-Fowler and Johnson-Koepka. If Simpson makes it he will play with Watson. Now it’s up to Furyk to find four more players he can mix and match. Or, more likely, two players who can team up with Tiger Woods and Mickelson.
Like Tiger, Bryson DeChambeau — currently ninth but with no chance of moving up a spot after missing the cut — is a golfing nerd and the two get along well. Woods could also play with Thomas, while Mickelson has played a lot with Fowler. In the last Presidents Cup, Mickelson also teamed up with Kisner to good effect.
Woods, DeChambeau, Mickelson and Kisner are probably in the box seat, therefore, but four more Furyk will be watching are the experienced Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar, plus promising Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele. Clearly there’s plenty for the skipper to chew on.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia missed his fifth straight halfway cut in a major championship
As for the Europeans, their concerns focus largely on three old hands Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson. The Spaniard has now added this week’s Wyndham Championship in North Carolina to his schedule after missing his fifth straight halfway cut in a major championship. He needs to do reasonably well at the Wyndham simply to make the top 125 who contest the first FedEx Cup play-off event.
Stenson played once in six weeks during June and July owing to an elbow injury and is still having to manage it. He has now played two weeks in a row and will defend his Wyndham title this week, but that he can’t practice as he would like was shown when he joined Garcia on the sidelines for the third and fourth rounds.
Casey is currently holding on to the last automatic spot but could well be overtaken by both Ian Poulter and in-form Thorbjorn Olesen on Sunday.
That would leave three experienced players outside the top eight and all struggling, with three weeks of automatic qualifying to go. Would you expend three out of four wild cards on a trio of veterans out of form?
At the top of the order, Open champion Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood and Jon Rahm won’t be overtaken but Swede Alex Noren is not yet a certainty after becoming another to miss the cut in St Louis.
A lot to be decided, then. Is it any wonder Thomas Bjorn is waking up at 4am with plenty on his mind?