Make that 11 straight starts that Phil Mickelson has managed to avoid stepping up and overtaking Tiger Woods as the world’s number-one player.
Mickelson didn’t even have to win the Deutsche Bank Championship, mind you. The computer-generated scenarios calculated second, third and fourth places depending on Woods’ finish and Stricker’s in one case. And for nine holes on Monday, it looked like he might actually pull it off.
In fact, when I saw Mickelson hadn’t thrown up on himself through eight, I rushed to the ninth because I figured I should catch some of this potentially historic round. I should have known better. It was earth-shattering, alright, in a not-so-spectacular way.
I showed up right in time to watch him play No. 10. Maybe I was bad luck?
Mickelson pulled his tee shot into the hazard on the right. He dropped and had a clear shot to the green, but he pulled this one even worse and it went over the green into yet another hazard.
Jim “Bones” Mackay was irked over the crowd control as Phil slowly surveyed his drop area. “Why isn’t anyone working here?” Bones groused.
“Well, keep it in the fairway and no one will bother you,” a fan muttered.
From a nice, fluffy lie, Mickelson hit a great flop shot to about 10 feet (it would have been difficult to do any better). With two penalty strokes, he had that putt for a double-bogey. He missed and tapped in for a triple bogey 7.
And he never quite recovered after the awful start on the back nine, coming in with a 41 and a five-over 76 total. He even sank a clutch par putt on No. 18 after dropping in front of the hazard that guards the green (he knocked his second shot into the junk from the bunker). Lefty posted seven-under on the week and dropped 19 spots to T25.
Ten minutes after playing partner Adam Scott walked out of the scoring trailer, Mickelson emerged and faced reporters. “It was a frustrating back nine for me,” he said. “I got off to a poor start tripling 10. I enjoyed the tournament, I enjoyed the chance I had heading into today, and it was a fun go there. I had some opportunities the front nine that could have got the round lower.”
Asked about his quest for No. 1, Mickelson replied icily, “I’m just trying to get my game right now, and today I took some positives — not from the day but from the week.”
Meanwhile, Tiger finished strong, carding three birdies in his last four holes, and placed T11 (three shots better than Mickelson).
You know, clearly it’s tough to win and it’s even harder to become the best golfer on planet earth, mathematically speaking. But when presented with 11 straight chances, and recently when it was teed up for Mickelson to seize the opportunity, he shot 78 (at WGC Bridgestone), and of course, 76 on Monday. It’s hard not to wonder whether he downplays how much the No. 1 ranking actually does mean to him (when asked, he always answers, “It’d be cool, but good golf will take care of that, etc.”). And he’s failed so many times that he’s scared to rise to the occasion.
In other words, Mickelson’s head gets in his way, where we should also wonder if we’ll ever be able to call him the world’s number-one player — even if it’s just a silly and contrived title.
[Photos by Kyle Auclair/insidetheropes.com]