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Mickelson Falls Short as Steele Defends at Safeway

Mickelson reacts to a missed par putt on the penultimate hole.
Phil Mickelson's bid for his first win anywhere in more than four years fell short at the PGA Tour's season-opening Safeway Open as fellow American Brendan Steele successfully defended his title at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, California.

Two years ago, Steele led through 54 holes of the Safeway Open only to record a final round of 76 to finish 17th, 12 months ago he won by one shot and today he won by two over Tony Finau and by three over the evergreen Mickelson and Chesson Hadley.

Steele finished 33rd on the FedEx Cup table last season, narrowly missing a chance to get the Tour Championship but it was his best season on the PGA Tour and he has started the new season in the best possible style.

Steele looked to be taking control of the tournament when he raced to the turn in 33 but got the speed wobbles early in his back nine when Mickelson and others closed within one.

Steele began the final round two shots behind the 54-hole leader and PGA Tour rookie Tyler Duncan but as Duncan’s inexperience quickly exposed itself with three consecutive bogeys to start his round, Steele took control.

Mickelson had also begun his final round slowly but worked his way back in to contention when he birdied the 16th to get within one of the leader. He would then bogey the 17th when he found the greenside bunker with his approach and although he birdied the last after a superb long-range bunker shot, it was a case of too little too late.

Mickelson's bogey at the 71st hole effectively ended his challenge.

It was, though, Mickelson’s best PGA Tour finish since his runner-up finish to Stenson at the 2016 Open Championship and he appears on track for his first win since his Open Championship win in 2013.

Steele responded to his mid round hiccup with birdies at the par-five 16th and 18th holes to edge ahead of Finau who had closed with a round of 69 despite a costly double bogey at his 14th hole.

It was Steele’s third PGA Tour title, the first of those coming at the Valero Texas Open in his rookie season of 2011.

“This was a brutal wind today and was blowing the other way so all the holes played completely different," said the champion.

“It was really a good springboard for me last year,” he added referring to his great season after winning this event last year.

“I think I held myself back a little bit at the end of the year trying to get to the Tour Championship so it was nice to come out here and feel free and getting everything back to zero.”

Mickelson was perhaps disappointed he was not able to convert a rare chance into victory but there was a lot of enthusiasm in his voice after the round.

“It was very difficult conditions and very different with the firm greens and the wind but I enjoyed the challenge and had fun today,” said the left-hander.

“The ball is starting on the right line, my distance control is good and the putting and my focus is much better.    

“I know I needed to birdie the last three but as it turns out even if I had I would have come out a shot shy.”   

Matt Jones was the only Australian to make the cut but faltered badly in today’s final round. His closing 77 saw him drop 26 positions to finish in a share of 43rd after being on the edge of contention through 54 holes.

The PGA Tour now moves to Malaysia for the CIMB Classic ahead of another event in Korea the following week. 

SIGNATURE HOLES: 3RD AT THE LINKS SHELL COVE (NSW)

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