Lefty’s streak of 26 years in the top 50 ends

Ac­com­plish­ment will be hard to beat, though McIl­roy be­lieves it can be matched one day

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - DOUG FER­GU­SON

SHANGHAI — The streak ended with lit­tle fan­fare, and that was just fine with Phil Mick­el­son.

He slashed his way to a tie for 28th in the HSBC Cham­pi­ons, with only 100 or so fans fol­low­ing along. Mick­el­son played his last nine holes right be­hind Rory McIl­roy, but only be­cause Lefty was in the first group to tee off on the back nine. He signed for a 68 in his fi­nal round of the year.

The num­ber that stands out is No. 51, his po­si­tion this week in the Of­fi­cial World Golf Rank­ing.

For the first time in nearly 26 years — 1,353 weeks to be ex­act — Mick­el­son is no longer among the top 50 in the world.

“It was a good run,” Mick­el­son said Sun­day. “Un­for­tu­nately, the last eight months I played ter­ri­bly and have fallen out. But I’ll get back in there.”

The ques­tion is whether any­one can ever match it.

Jor­dan Spi­eth was not quite 4 months old when Mick­el­son first cracked the top 50 on Nov. 23, 1993, with a run­nerup fin­ish in the Ca­sio World Open. Deane Be­man was the com­mis­sioner of the PGA Tour.

Rory McIl­roy com­pared Mick­el­son’s streak to Tiger Woods go­ing 142 starts on the PGA Tour over seven years with­out miss­ing a cut.

“Be­ing top 50 in the world since 1993, that means no in­juries, no breaks, that is noth­ing,” McIl­roy said. “Play your game, keep go­ing.”

That’s all Mick­el­son has done.

He never reached No. 1 in the world, mainly be­cause of Woods, partly be­cause Mick­el­son was not on top of his game when Woods fell off and cre­ated an op­por­tu­nity. Then again, Mick­el­son never won a PGA Tour money ti­tle or was voted PGA Tour player of the year.

His hall­mark is con­sis­tently great play, and it is un­ri­valed.

“It’s pretty amaz­ing given he was there into his 40s like that, with how much time is taken from golf with your fam­ily,” Spi­eth said. “You’re not as sharp be­cause you’re not do­ing it as of­ten. I give him more credit in the last seven to 10 years.”

Mick­el­son nearly fell out at the start of 2018, and then he ran off four straight top 10s, cul­mi­nat­ing with his third World Golf Cham­pi­onships ti­tle in Mex­ico City. He reached No. 17 with his vic­tory at the Peb­ble Beach Pro-Am in Fe­bru­ary — his sev­enth win in his 40s, in­clud­ing a ma­jor — and was hope­ful of a big year.

He hasn’t fin­ished bet­ter than a tie for 18th since then.

McIl­roy is com­plet­ing his 11th year in the top 50 — he first cracked the top 50 with a run­ner-up fin­ish in Hong Kong in 2008 — and that’s now the long­est cur­rent streak. For ev­ery­one else but Mick­el­son, it seemed some­thing al­ways would go wrong, whether it was in­jury (Woods) or a spell of bad play (Adam Scott, Ser­gio Gar­cia, Justin Rose). No one thought Woods would drop from the top 50 — much less No. 1, a spot he twice held for five straight years — un­til his per­sonal life im­ploded and then his legs broke down, and his streak of 15 years in the top 50 ended in 2011.

The se­cret?

It starts with great golf, and Mick­el­son is among the best to ever play.

“You have to have good bal­ance,” Mick­el­son said. “Amy (his wife) is a big part of that, hav­ing a good bal­ance of fam­ily and play­ing sched­ule, so when I do play I’m fo­cused. Hav­ing kids on the road early in my ca­reer was a big thing.

“For the most part, it’s hav­ing the de­sire to work on it, and hav­ing pas­sion for it and love it and en­joy­ing it and com­pet­ing.”

McIl­roy be­lieves the record can be matched, and he thinks it goes be­yond stay­ing in­jury-free. McIl­roy had back trou­ble very early in his ca­reer, and he missed a chunk of time in early 2017 with a rib in­jury, only the sec­ond time he went through an en­tire year with­out win­ning.

“I would have said that a few years ago,” McIl­roy said about in­juries. “But I feel as good as I ever have.”

He also is 30. What will he say 10 years from now?

“Hope­fully, what Tom Brady says,” McIl­roy replied, re­fer­ring to the 42year-old New England Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back. “I feel bet­ter than when I came into the league.”

McIl­roy says a fam­ily and shift­ing pri­or­i­ties could be­come more of an ob­sta­cle than in­juries, which im­presses him about Mick­el­son.

Spi­eth is more im­pressed with Mick­el­son hav­ing played on the last 24 teams for the Ryder Cup and Pres­i­dents Cup, an­other streak that is end­ing.

Mick­el­son qual­i­fied for 19 con­sec­u­tive teams and only re­cently had to rely on a pick.

But those streaks go hand in hand. “You’re not go­ing to make teams if you’re not top 50, or top 20 even,” Mick­el­son said.

That’s where Mick­el­son could be found for three weeks shy of 26 years, and even though the streak is done, Mick­el­son says he is not.

He al­ready is talk­ing about mak­ing the next Ryder Cup team.

GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO

Phil Mick­el­son, pic­tured, never reached No. 1 in the world, mainly due to Tiger Woods, partly be­cause Mick­el­son wasn’t at his best when Woods fell off.

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