Gauging Phil Mickelson's golf legacy after a near-59, a tale of almosts and what ifs
A big Phil Mickelson fan, I’ve been snooping around the record books lately.
As Mickelson, 42, enters the twilight of his career, I’m curious to see how Lefty ranks among the titans of golf.
Sadly, his near-59 yesterday at the Waste Management Open will probably serve as another painful reminder of the ‘almosts’ that will likely keep ‘Phil The Thrill’ from ranking among the all-time greats. The golf gods blessed Mickelson with great ability. Yet they continue to cruelly tease him and toy with his fans.
Even the most loyal fans - Mickelson’s biggest ally - couldn’t help him in the Golfchannel.com Ultimate Match Play Championship (click here to vote in the online tournament). Mickelson, the 16th seed, lost to No. 1 Jack Nicklaus last week in a first-round matchup of the biggest golf legends.
The staff at The Golf Channel seeded Mickelson lower than I would have expected, although they probably got it right considering his overall resume. Mickelson boasts 40 PGA TOUR wins (tied for ninth all-time) and three NCAA singles national championships (No. 1 all-time). It’s his near-misses at huge tournaments that continue to hold him back. He’s won a single World Golf Championship. He’s only secured four major titles, three at The Masters and one PGA Championship. His Ryder Cup record, both team and individually, is shaky at best.
I feel he has to do two things to enter the discussion among the top 10 players in the history of golf. He must get to 50 PGA Tour wins - an unlikely scenario that would place him eighth all-time behind Sam Snead (82), Tiger Woods (75), Jack Nicklaus (73), Ben Hogan (64), Arnold Palmer (62), Byron Nelson (52) and Billy Casper (51). And he desperately needs six major titles, another long shot. He’s currently stuck on four with a logjam of eight Hall-of-Famers, including Ernie Els, Bobby Locke, Raymond Floyd and Old Tom Morris Sr. and Jr.
There’s another traffic jam of players at five majors, notably Seve Ballesteros and Nelson. Getting to six is the rarefied air he needs, tying him with Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino, only behind Nicklaus (18), Woods (14), Walter Hagen (11), Gary Player and Hogan (9), Tom Watson (8) and Palmer, Snead, Bobby Jones, Harry Vardon and Gene Sarazen (7).
Just think of all the “what ifs” and “could have beens” with Mickelson. What if he doesn’t whiff that drive on No. 18 at Winged Foot at the 2006 U.S. Open? What if he doesn’t squander his chance last year to rank No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career? What if he makes those last two birdie putts at the TPC Scottsdale Stadium course yesterday to shoot the first 58 in Tour history?
Those two putts symbolize Mickelson’s star-crossed career in so many ways. They were so tantalizingly close to greatness. They just didn’t drop.
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