I’LL confess straight up. It took me a long time to really like Phil Mickelson. When he first started making waves on the PGA Tour back in the early 90s I guess I looked at him as being just another precocious young American with some serious talent. After all, back then, no Australian golf fan would have been cheering for anyone but Greg Norman.
But by the time he broke through for his first major win at the 2004 Masters, plenty of golf fans, like me, had started to really warm to ‘Lefty’. I didn’t pity him but I felt he deserved his time in the sun having finished second or third in the majors on eight occasions before finally getting over the line.
Of course, he has since accrued another four major championships but his popularity post-40 has soared simply because he doesn’t play the game like 99 percent of the rest of the guys on the PGA Tour.
Only he is capable of doing ‘Phil things’ … playing shots no other player could even imagine let alone play. Think back to the 2010 Masters and the iron shot from behind a tree, off the pine straw, through more trees and onto the 13th green to leave a three-foot eagle putt that would ultimately help him claim his third green jacket. That’s a ‘Phil thing.’
Of course, in many ways, he’s a flawed genius. He’s probably thrown away as many majors as he has won, simply by not taking his foot off the accelerator. And THAT is why he is probably the most popular player in the game today. When you go to watch Phil Mickelson at a tournament you just don’t know what you’re going to see. You know there will be plenty of Arnold Palmer-like thumbs-up and the occasional impossible chip shot from a gnarly lie that he will make look so easy it’s sickening. But he’s like that Forrest Gump box of chocolates … you never really know what you’re going to get. So when he dropped to No.49 in the world ranking heading into the Phoenix Open last month, there was a real chance he might drop out of the Top-50 for the first time since November 1993. That’s right … he has been in elite company now for 24 years, more than half his life.
When he first cracked a spot in the Top-50, Nick Faldo was World No.1 and the reigning major winners were Bernhard Langer (Masters), Lee Janzen (U.S. Open), Greg Norman (Open Championship) and Paul Azinger (US PGA). Nick Price was the leading money winner.
With his back to the wall at TPC Scottsdale and no real form to speak of, Mickelson came out swinging. A second round 65 had him in the hunt for his first win in five years. He followed with a 66 to make it known he wasn’t going to ride off into the Arizona desert quietly.
But, alas, a slow start on Sunday left him too much to do and despite a three-birdie, double bogey, finish over the last four holes he grabbed a share of fifth place and some valuable ranking points.
At the time of writing, Mickelson was No.41 in the world and seemingly in better form when he left Phoenix than when he arrived.
Could he be the fairytale story of next month’s Masters? Jack Nicklaus won at Augusta aged 46 and there is something that stirs Mickelson up in side every time he drives down Magnolia Lane. He could be in the worst form of his career turning off Washington Rd and by the time he’s reached the clubhouse some 400 yards away he’s 10-foot tall and bullet proof.
As a converted Phil fan, I’d like to see him win one more major. The preference would obviously be for him to complete the career grand slam with a US Open title but given the course set-ups these days I suspect that win is highly unlikely. Augusta represents his best chance and, who knows, a win there could have him knocking on the door of a spot in the World Top-10.