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January 19, 2010 7:59 AM

Golf will get its Phil this year

philmick.jpgSo, what do you think of the golf season so far?
What's that? Don't be a wiseguy? For all intents and purposes, the season was officially canceled when Tiger drove his car into that tree and his reputation into that dense forest about a month ago?

OK, now who's being the wiseguy, eh?

As always -- or at least a solid 62 percent of the time -- we're just trying to be relevant around here. No harm asking a perfectly legitimate question to the two or three of you who might have watched some PGA golf this year. If you are playing, however, we hate you.

Anyway, while flipping channels at about 1:30 a.m., GCT (German Central Time) Monday, and between the San Diego kicker's flubs, there, before our tired eyes, was golf being played in the warm, bright sunshine of Hawaii.
At that time of the morning, could have been we faded into some kind of a dream, but we're sure we were awake because Norv Turner sported that perplexed, Al Gore-like look on his face, as another one of his teams blew an opportunity to win a big, meaningful game.

Might as well have been a dream, though. I mean, there was Davis and Ernie and Retief all playing, and positioned right near the top of the leaderboard, as always!
When it was over, Ryan Palmer, absolutely no relationship to the famous king with the same surname, had won the PGA Tour's first full-field event of 2010. And there was Davis and Ernie and Retief finishing a few shots back, as always.

So much for dreaming with all that cruel reality about.


Anyway, they're off!
Get ready for a wild ride this season, golf fans! Well, OK, about as wild as a ride can be when maneuvering a golf cart between palm trees -- but a ride nonetheless.
For the first time since Woods started racking up majors and the pelts of so many blond bimbos just over a decade ago, there is a feeling that the door to the big tournaments has been left unguarded by its Tiger.

The conditions are ripe for a suspecting golfer to pick off a major or two and cement his place as one of the game's all-time greats.
We're talking about Phil Mickelson, of course.

Even before Tiger's implosion, we had the feeling 'lefty' was ready for a big campaign. The last two times he was on the course with Tiger, Phil won both times -- first, in the Tour Championship in September, and then again two months later in the WGC-HSBC Championship in China.

At, 39, Mickelson is in his prime as a man and a golfer. It's time he put together a memorable year.
 
It's been almost four years since Mickelson last won a major, the 2006 Masters.
Since that time, he's put himself in prime position to win at least two or three others, but couldn't close the deal.
The 'disaster at Winged Foot' in 2006 is the most notorious footnote of his recent major troubles. In that one, of course, Phil needed only a par on 18 to lock up his first U.S. Open title. Instead, he double-bogeyed the hole, and said immediately afterward, "I still am in shock that I did that. I just can't believe I did that. I'm such an idiot."  
Eloquent? No. Candid. You bet. It's about that time I actually started coming around to the guy.

While playing mostly No. 2 to Tiger's No. 1, Mickelson has won 37 times on tour, including those three majors, and ranks 12th on the all-time list. With only four more wins he'll vault into the ninth spot. That's some tall cotton, brother.

Problem for Phil is, greatness in golf is measured in majors, and his modest total of three so far ties him with guys like Larry Nelson, Nick Price, and Cary Middlecoff -- very nice players all, but not quite great.

No, to be considered great, Mickelson will need at least two more majors. Guys like Byron Nelson and Seve Ballesteros have five majors to their credit, and they were great. If he can sneak one or two after that, he joins the Palmers, Trevinos and Sneads, among others. But you get the picture.

The major tracks this year should be to Phil's liking. After Augusta (where he's won twice), the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the Open Championship at St. Andrews, and the PGA at Wisconsin's Whistling Straits, all should suit his game.

But here's the single biggest reason we think Mickelson will win a major or two this year: peace of mind.
Last year, in an awful span of about two months over the summer, Phil learned that first his wife, Amy, and then his mother, Mary,  were suffering from breast cancer. That's the kind of thing that makes all that trouble in some silly golf major seem rather trivial.

Most reports (scant though they are) say that Phil and his family have fought through this battle with flying colors.

With his family life thankfully back in order, wielding perspective as a powerful 15th club, and Tiger suffering from multiple self-inflicted wounds, we reckon the course is clear for Mickelson to dominate this year.

Who knows, you might even admit you watched some of it.

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