The new book on Mickelson

by Dan M | Posted on Monday, July 29th, 2013

philclaret

By Chad Conine

A few weeks ago in this space, I attempted to rank the top 10 golf moments of the 2000s so far. The list came immediately after the U.S. Open, which didn’t provide one of the top 10 moments, only a Phil Mickelson mini-collapse that allowed Justin Rose to claim his first major victory.

At the time, it appeared MIckelson might not be able to pile up enough majors to rank among the super-elite of golf history.

But The Open Championship at Muirfield changed some things.

By storming from five strokes back with a final round of 5-under par 66,  Mickelson gave one of the great performances of this century. Maybe No. 1. His 3-wood on No. 17 and the subsequent tap-in birdie along with a brilliant birdie putt on 18 perhaps put this one over the top.

In the grand scheme of things, though, this one is a bit bigger. It now appears Mickelson, who already had the persona to fit on golf’s top shelf, will gather the victories to back it up definitively.

Let’s begin with what has already happened.

Mickelson won his fifth major, leaving the number of golfers who have won four majors at eight and increasing the number who have won five to six (Byron Nelson, Seve Ballesteros, James Braid, John Henry Taylor, Peter Thomson and now Lefty).

Mickelson also joined a spectacular list of Open champions at Muirfield. Now the list includes Gary Player, Jack Nicklause, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and Lefty. It seems Muirfield is even more exclusive than we thought. Not only can only men join the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, only superstars can win an Open there.

However, Mickelson also re-wrote the book on himself going forward. Before Sunday, it read that Mickelson was good for the occasional Masters victory and possibly the PGA Championship. He could finish second at the U.S. Open with remarkable consistency, but he didn’t have the shots for links golf and therefore  really only played a three-major season every year.

The way Mickelson played links golf under true links conditions the last two weeks shows us that he has adapted. I read an ESPN report that suggested Mickelson’s Scottish Open victory at Castle Stuart the week before The Open didn’t indicate his links golf prowess at it was not a links course in the same fashion as Muirfield. I’ve played Castle Stuart and Muirfield and I believe the writer was guilty of splitting hairs. Let’s just say Castle Stuart has way more in common with Muirfield than Merion or Augusta National.

From this vantage point, it would be surprising if Mickelson didn’t add another Open championship to his Wikipedia page. So what if he does? What if Mickelson wins just one more Open and mixes in another Masters or PGA?

Well, that would give Mickelson seven major victories and put him in the top 10 of all-time major winners. At the moment that list goes like this: Jack Nicklaus (18), Tiger Woods (14), Walter Hagen (11), Ben Hogan and Gary Player (9), Tom Watson (8), and Gene Sarazen, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Bobby Jones and Harry Vardon (7). So Phil needs two more to joint the undeniable top tier of golf greatness.

Here’s another interesting question: what if Mickelson wins only one more, but it’s a U.S. Open? That would make him only the sixth golfer to accomplish the career grand slam. At the end of his Open victory chat with Tom Rinaldi, Mickelson quipped “If six seconds counted, I’d have all four of them.” Sorry, Lefty, you’re going to have to actually win it.

Regardless of whether or not Mickelson clears his personal U.S. Open hurdle, we’re watching at least two of the great golf careers play out right now. Mickelson has always been the Arnold Palmer to Tiger’s Jack Nicklaus (i.e., the golfer fans adored despite his lagging accomplishments). But he’s becoming Palmer if Palmer had put together a run of major victories in the 1970s to wrest some of the spotlight away from Nicklaus, Trevino and Watson.

Oh by the way, Tiger missed his best chance to come from behind to win a major. He’s never done it, but this felt more like Tiger leading going into the final round as it was pretty clear that Lee Westwood or Hunter Mahan weren’t going to do it.

Westwood seems destined to never win a major if for no other reason than he’s had so many chances and is yet to make a definitive shot or putt that would launch him to a title. He’s been second or third on eight occasions.

He asked in an article on the UK newspaper The Sun’s online edition, “If you’re physically fit and have the resilience and hunger to come back, why would people think you should toss it in?”

Well, I don’t think he should toss it in, I just don’t think he’ll ultimately get it done. For the record, I hope I’m wrong about this.

And I wanted to see Texan and Colleyville resident Mahan win, but I knew it was going to take him reaching a higher level of play in a major championship with some of the world’s best in the mix. It didn’t add up to feeling like Mahan’s day and, of course, it wasn’t.

It wasn’t Tiger’s day either, but that doesn’t make me sad. Anyone who routinely, unabashedly screams offensive language despite having microphones pointed at him won’t get much sympathy from me.

 

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