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.

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