PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Andy Mickelson did not see this coming.
That’s because Mickelson, who won the 39th National Car Rental PGA Assistant Championship on Sunday at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, by two shots over Adam Rainaud (14-under-par, 274) of South Hadley, Massachusetts, would not let himself see it.
2015 PGA ASSISTANT CHAMPIONSHIP: Final results | Sunday's photos
“Shot to shot,” Mickelson’s steady mantra all week, rendered a 16-under, 272 total and his first National Championship victory, which came in his debut in this Championship.
Richard Terga (13-under-par, 275) of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida finished third, while Shane Pearce of Anna, Texas finished 12-under, 276 in fourth.
An apprentice at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville, Illinois, Mickelson had spent much of the last decade toiling on the Hooters Tour, toggling between Professional and amateur status, questioning his commitment to the game and unsure of his place in it.
Little more than a year ago, he was working for a packaging company, specializing in supply chain management. That all changed with one phone call from Mistwood. They invited him to return.
“I was working in a cubicle. Then I got the call,” said the 34-year-old Mickelson. “This is what I am. I love the game of golf.”
Being back at Mistwood was one thing, but winning the National Car Rental PGA Assistant Championship was another.
When asked if he had pre-tournament visions of winning, Mickelson chuckled, “not at all. I just wanted to make it to the weekend. That was my goal. I had a good year in our [Illinois] Section, but there was no way I saw myself winning. No way was I going to go 16-under for four days. I have not played a big four-round tournament in nearly 10 years.”
Perhaps that rust showed early on Sunday. Mickelson’s bogey on the 2nd hole was his first in 49 holes. Two more bogeys, on 4 and 9, turned his two-shot advantage into a two-stroke deficit, as Rainaud leapt into the lead for the first time.
At the turn, both Mickelson and Rainaud knew it was a two-horse race.
When Rainaud had consecutive three-putt bogeys on 11 and 12, Mickelson reclaimed the lead as he sunk a testy, left-to-right 15-footer at the 12th, which “was the first long putt I made in two days,” he recalled. “That was the big swing as I then hit a great drive on 13 and followed that up with a really good second shot. I missed for eagle, but made the birdie. I had the momentum.”
Rainaud played well early, he birdied the Wanamaker’s initial two holes, but fell victim to hot play from the eventual champion on the back side. Unfortunately, he had lived this storyline once before.
“It’s kind of funny, this is almost exactly how it happened for me in 2010,” Rainaud recalled of the 2010 Championship, when he was in the final group, led by two shots on the back 9, but was eventually overtaken by Frank Bensel. “I hit two good putts on 11 and 12, for par. I thought I had made both when they were a foot from the hole. Both burned the edge. Those [bogeys] just got to me and I never got back into it.”
On Saturday, Mickelson had referred to his stay in Port St. Lucie as a “vacation.”
Sunday, he called the unforeseen victory “the biggest win I have ever had. It is just surreal. I am having trouble fathoming this, to be honest. All week, I was in the mindset of ‘shot-to-shot.’ I did not get ahead of myself. I just kept my head down.”
No wonder he did not see it coming.
Sub-par scores recorded by round: Sunday (25/70), Saturday (26/70), Friday (44/133), Thursday (43/133).
The field’s lone woman, Karen Paolozzi of Atlanta, Georgia closed with a 5-under 67. She finished 6-under for the Championship in a tie for 17th place.