Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Waking Up in 2010: Can Phil Phinally (Ph)Dominate?


Phil Mickelson is one of the rarest of athletes. He's the one that is better than every single other athlete in his profession in the entire world, except one, which makes him somewhat of a disappointment. Doesn't make sense, right? Keep reading.

Before 2004, he was Philly Gone Bridesmaid, never winning the big tournament but always coming ohsoclose time after time. After he leaped into the major championship class with that birdie at the '04 Masters, we expected floodgates to open, for a reason we now know to be somewhat dimwitted. He won a PGA Championship. He triumphed once again at Augusta National, but some guys can nail the clutch jumper time and time again and some guys clank it off the front of the rim more than they don't.

For all Mickelson's immense talent, he is still the latter of that definition, a guy that you expect to win more big tournaments but see grasping his head after bad decisions, admitting to the masses that he is, in fact, an idiot.

A lot of that changed at the end of '09, when Phil took down Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship with a closing 65, and held the tournament trophy while Woods hoisted the FedEx Cup hardware. After that, Phil won the HSBC Champions and outplayed Tiger at the Presidents Cup, hitting shot after majestic shot close to the pin, winning four matches and raising the simple question, "Has Phil finally figured it out?"

Now, that was then, and this is now, when Woods has been plastered all over every news outlet in the world as a cheat and a liar and a horrible husband and terrible man (their words, not mine). He is taking some time away from the sport he normally dominates, leaving the door open for, among others, Phil Mickelson.

Lefty will turn 40 this summer, and we all know that dominating in this sport, in most cases, starts to decline around this time (Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry might disagree with me). He still has some good years left, but contending in majors after 40 is a stretch.

So .............

Can Phil take advantage of this strange season and dominate? With the tournament locations, it sure seems likely.

First, the Masters will be at Augusta (surprise!), which he has won twice. If someone could tackle this man and convince him to play only the lefty cut, that won him his first Masters, he would probably be the early favorite in Georgia.

After that is Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open, where he has won three times during the annual event at the majestic Monterey Peninsula and finished t-16 in 2000 when Pebble last hosted an Open. It seems that if he goes in playing like he did when the year ended, this wouldn't be a stretch either, considering his past success on the links.

Now comes an interesting thought about the British Open. I long said that Phil could never win a British, just because it couldn't fit his game less, but I've played St. Andrews enough to know one thing. If you are a lefty (raises hand) and commit to moving the ball right to left (a controlled cut that lands soft on the rolling fairways of the Old Course), you have a serious advantage at St. Andrews over the righties that are forced to draw the ball left (you can't miss it right at St. Andrews anywhere), allowing it to run out in areas you don't want to be (see: pot bunkers). Now, saying that, Mickelson has never had much success at St. Andrews, finishing t-40 in 1995, t-11 in 2000 and t-60 in 2005, but if he has some confidence in his game, maybe it would translate. Also, this is me, stretching it.

Oh, and the PGA Championship is at Whistling Straits, a place that last held a major in '04, where Phil finished t-6, and was won by a guy (Singh), who had recently turned 40.

I guess the conclusion is, if Phil really has perfected his short game like some of the gurus are saying, and he can play golf like he did to close out the season, and isn't scared to take down Tiger like he did on the front nine of Augusta in '09, maybe this could be his year instead of Tigers.

All of it, however, comes down to one simple truth -- how sick is Phil of playing that second fiddle? That could be the deciding factor of 2010.

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