Mickelson in No-Win Situation as Tiger Stays Home
Golf

How Little We Think of Phil

7/17/08 in Golf   |   TheBigThree   |   1 respect


If you can bear to watch, keep this in mind during your Open Championship viewing this week: We think very little of Phil Mickelson.

Forget the fact that he dropped a nuclear 79 Thursday morning and has practically the entire field between him and the lead. Coming into this tournament, the world was supposed to think, “Oh, Tiger’s gone! This is Phil’s chance!” CBS Sportsline’s Steve Elling had the audacity to print an article titled: “While cat’s away, Lefty has shot to really play.” Really, now? That’s what this has come to? Tiger is now part of a causal statement; i.e., x causes y. In this case, Tiger’s absence is supposed to cause Phil Mickelson’s contention for the championship.

If that’s the case—if this is supposed to be the universal thought—then why on Earth do we watch this sport to begin with? To somehow believe that Tiger Woods’ relaxation in the States is supposed to open the door for Lefty is two things: (1) it’s woefully inaccurate, and (2) it’s quite insulting. It’s not like Phil Mickelson is Tiger’s Greg Norman; it’s not like the man should be buried in a silver coffin. Do you know how many times Phil has finished second to Tiger in a major championship? One. One stinking event. It was the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage, and Phil finished a nondescript three shots back. Outside of that one tournament that one year, Mickelson would’ve had to overcome other champions to claim victory.

As such, we sharp-minded pundits think an awful lot of our lovable Lefty, because if this scenario gives Phil Mickelson the opportunity to literally rise to the occasion and capture (to borrow a phrase from my soccer colleagues) European glory, then Phil Mickelson is quite possibly the most feeble competitor in professional sports. Is Tiger’s will branded onto Phil’s competitive spirit that much? Does it take a Tiger-less field for Phil to say, “Now, I really have my shot?”

For heaven’s sake, look at Rafa Nadal. Yeah, yeah—tennis and golf are two different animals, but that should make the staredown between number one and number two all the more pure and meaningful. Rafa Nadal took out Roger Federer, an athletic king of equal prowess and dominance as Tiger, on Roger Federer’s home court. Rafa the apprentice went toe to toe with Roger the master, and for one day, at least, the master was slain (although similar outcomes may doubtlessly be on the horizon). And not to go completely Star Wars on you, but if Rafa is supposed to be Annakin and Roger plays the part of Obi-Wan, Lefty is one of those Jedi who may as well have been an extra and was killed off-camera in Episode III—he allegedly has the talent, he has the name and title, but more often than not, he vanishes without anyone really noticing.

Who knows what Mickelson does the rest of this week? Does he fold? Does he make the cut? Does he contend on Sunday? For the purpose of this debate, all of those things are irrelevant. The insult has already been leveled: Phil Mickelson can seize the day, because Tiger Woods’ shadow is nowhere to be seen. Yes, Phil Mickelson is somewhat of a mental wonder; the ’06 U.S. Open, like the ’99 Open Championship before it, will forever be a shining example of temporary retardation, insanity, or something along those lines. But as it relates to the omnipresent Tiger Woods, Phil’s mental struggles are hardly temporary. Everywhere he walks, every tournament in which he plays, the idea is bandied about: “Can he overcome it?”

“It” has meant so many things in Phil Mickelson’s career. For a while, “it” was winning a major title. Then, for a brief moment in ’06, “it” was the thought of defeating the barrier that lay between him and the pinnacle of golf. But all throughout then and now, there has been one constant “it” for Phil Mickelson to overcome, and that is the thought of overtaking Tiger—not in the rankings, not for year, just for a Sunday. He’s vanquished Tiger before, but it was Tiger  among a horde of top-five finishers, and it’s happened only twice. Never has Phil taken Tiger down, to use the egregiously inaccurate colloquialism, “mano y mano.”

And to make matters worse, not only will he not receive another opportunity this week, but now he is faced with obtaining the spotlight that has been left absent. Now, it’s not “mano y mano,” but “mind vs. mind.”

And with Tiger Woods at home, it’s not Phil’s mind vs. Tiger’s mind—it’s Phil’s mind vs. Phil’s mind. How little we think of him for that being the case, and how true it’s shown itself to be in the past.
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7/17/08   |   TheBigThree   |   1 respect

CriticalFanatic wrote:
It's worth noting that the average score of those that started very early this morning was 79. Clearly Phil needs to be above average, but the weather was indeed miserable earlier as opposed to the modest conditions we're currently looking at.

The criticism of Lefty is always interesting to me. He's kind of like the Peyton Manning of golf, although trying to compare players from these two sports is a stretch.

We jump on Phil because he just so happens to not be one of the best athletes in the HISTORY of sports. Because we're spoiled by Tiger Woods and his breathtaking dominance over the sport of golf, we simply think so little of the guy who's the 2nd ranked golfer in the world. Mickelson is quite possible the 3rd most talented golfer in the history of the sport behind Tiger and Jack. If it weren't for Tiger, we'd be tracking Lefty's records and in awe of his accomplishments, instead of jumping all over him we he fails to compete with Tiger, just like the each and every other golfer on tour.
(Edited by TheBigThree)

CriticalFanatic wrote:

It's worth noting that the average score of those that started very early this morning was 79. Clearly Phil needs to be above average, but the weather was indeed miserable earlier as opposed to the modest conditions we're currently looking at.

The criticism of Lefty is always interesting to me. He's kind of like the Peyton Manning of golf, although trying to compare players from these two sports is a stretch.

We jump on Phil because he just so happens to not be one of the best athletes in the HISTORY of sports. Because we're spoiled by Tiger Woods and his breathtaking dominance over the sport of golf, we simply think so little of the guy who's the 2nd ranked golfer in the world. Mickelson is quite possible the 3rd most talented golfer in the history of the sport behind Tiger and Jack. If it weren't for Tiger, we'd be tracking Lefty's records and in awe of his accomplishments, instead of jumping all over him we he fails to compete with Tiger, just like the each and every other golfer on tour.
I entirely agree.

Phil is an extremely good golfer -- he can hit it big off the tee, has a solid iron game, and is completely sublime around the green.  He's won three majors, which is three more than most, and if he captures two more (not completely unreasonable, but difficult), he can count Seve and Byron Nelson as his major championship peers.

The point that I wanted to make is that this isn't about Phil "overcoming" Tiger, and yet the media oftentimes perceives it as such, fans oftentimes perceive it as such, and it's reached the point where I wouldn't be surprised if Phil oftentimes perceives it as such.  He's finished second to Tiger in a major only once, so Phil had work to do to clear the rest of the field in all of Tiger's other major wins.

Certainly, the field in a golf tournament is dynamic -- more specifically, take Tiger out of the equation, and the field may not have all moved up exactly one position with the exact same score.  No Tiger, less pressure, different tactics (at least to an extent).  Maybe some of Phil's top-fives in previous majors would have translated into victories.  Who knows?

But really, I put Phil in the same light as I put someone like Ernie and someone like Vijay -- indubitably great golfers and presumably legends of the game.  Ernie had his heyday a bit before Tiger's time, and Vijay was in the midst of his as Tiger was coming along.  In this case of Phil, you're exactly right: it was bad timing.  He started to get his at the same time Tiger was getting more.  And as such, we looked at Phil as "the number one challenger" for Tiger's belt.  It's unfortunate for him and, perhaps, unfair.  Since he hasn't been able to adequately fill that role (at least for our tastes), his reputation has suffered all the worse.  Ergo, we think awfully little of him.

(P.S., when I started writing that this morning, Phil's 79 put him in a tie for 119th.  The conditions were definitely awful when he hit the course, and I'm sure he would've been able to shoot better in more suitable weather.  But still, outside of the top-100 -- a tad nuke.)

7/17/08   |   CriticalFanatic

It's worth noting that the average score of those that started very early this morning was 79. Clearly Phil needs to be above average, but the weather was indeed miserable earlier as opposed to the modest conditions we're currently looking at.

The criticism of Lefty is always interesting to me. He's kind of like the Peyton Manning of golf, although trying to compare players from these two sports is a stretch.

We jump on Phil because he just so happens to not be one of the best athletes in the HISTORY of sports. Because we're spoiled by Tiger Woods and his breathtaking dominance over the sport of golf, we simply think so little of the guy who's the 2nd ranked golfer in the world. Mickelson is quite possible the 3rd most talented golfer in the history of the sport behind Tiger and Jack. If it weren't for Tiger, we'd be tracking Lefty's records and in awe of his accomplishments, instead of jumping all over him we he fails to compete with Tiger, just like the each and every other golfer on tour.