Desert ClassicJanuary 20, 2019

Phil Mickelson lives up (or down) to his reputation as 'a fabulous enigma'

Jeff Gross

The story of the day for Phil Mickelson, shown here missing a birdie putt on the 13th green. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Phil Mickelson is the official ambassador of the Desert Classic, which could not ask for a more accommodating host, his generosity extending to a putter that helped orchestrate the least likely outcome the PGA Tour might see this season.

Adam Long emerged from obscurity on Sunday and won the Desert Classic and Mickelson lost it, the least recognizable player in the field beating the most recognizable player, and who could have envisioned either of those happening?

Give Long credit. He shot a bogey-free 65 on the Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., the last of his seven birdies coming on the 18th hole to beat Mickelson and Adam Hadwin by one.

RELATED: Adam Long, a 31-year-old PGA Tour rookie, birdies the 72nd hole to win the Desert Classic

But Mickelson, who shot a 69, played a critical role in allowing an unknown 31-year-old PGA Tour rookie to wrest his impending 44th PGA Tour victory from him and handing him his 36th runner-up finish.

Mickelson, who opened the tournament with a 60, led after each of the first three rounds, in a tournament he’s won twice, in a state in which he’s won 13 times. It would have been a lock, were it not for Phil being Phil.

He could not simply coast to the finish line and win wire to wire. Too easy. He kept everyone guessing as he squandered a two-stroke lead, fell behind by three, recovered to regain a share of the lead only to lose it in the end.

“A fabulous enigma,” GolfChannel’s Arron Oberholser called him on Twitter.

That part was predictable. What was unusual was that it was not an insubordinate driver responsible for his demise. Instead, his putter chose an inopportune time in Mickelson’s 2019 debut to go back into hibernation.

“I had a terrible putting day, one of the worst I can recall in awhile,” Mickelson said. “Started right at the first hole with a little four-footer uphill and three-putting that green. And I missed a bunch of short ones on the front and some birdie opportunities.

“But it felt awful with the putter. I hit a lot of good shots today, but just couldn’t get the ball to go into the hole.”

Mickelson, 48, finished 64th in a field of 73 who made the cut in strokes gained-putting, largely because he so frequently misfired on Sunday. He hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation, three more than he hit in each of the first three rounds, yet had 1.824 putts per green, his worst of the week.

His generosity extended to his final birdie effort, from 38 feet, right to left, on the 18th green, that provided an assist that allowed Long to beat him. Mickelson’s putt just skirted the hole on the low side.

Long then holed his 14-foot birdie putt on virtually the same line to secure the victory. “Honestly, I got a pretty good read off Phil’s putt,” Long said.

There is nothing else to be read into Mickelson’s performance. By now, in his 28th year in his professional golf, it’s obvious that the only thing predictable about him is his unpredictability.

“It's a weird game how sometimes if you haven't played for awhile it just can click and come right back,” he said. “But usually you need a little bit of a foundation there coming down the stretch.

“When you get to feel the pressure you need to have that foundation of practice and seeing the shots that you want to hit, seeing the ball go in on the greens and so forth and I didn't really have that today. I played okay today, I didn't play poorly I just really struggled on the greens.”