All this time, we should have been talking about Phil Mickelson.
While Tiger Woods' dalliances played out in tabloids and on talk shows, Mickelson's wife and mother were surviving cancer. For a guy whose warmth and smile have been his calling card since before he won his first major, the 2004 Masters, his family's strife could not have been more starkly contrasted against infidelity and deceit.
It's the last -- best? -- contrast between Mickelson and Woods. One's a righty; one's Lefty. One grinds out greatness; one takes every chance available and flubs at least a quarter. One is tight-lipped, laser-focused; one spends more time grinning and grimacing than he does gritting his teeth. But both have boatloads of talent, enough that the PGA Tour is often assumed to be either Tiger and a pack of dwarves, or Tiger, Phil, and the dwarves.Mickelson was sharp in all facets. His iron play gave him chance after chance to go low, and his putting, often his Achilles' heel, was good enough to put up a total tied for third-best tournament score in Masters history, a 16-under 272. And he was as daring and creative as ever: His shot from a bed of pine straw on the 13th hole, which curved around a tree and carried over water, will be seared into Masters lore.
But, moreover, he looked like the best golfer in the world all day and all week, while Tiger and others struggled with their flaws. Woods tied for fourth at 11-under despite a balky driver; Lee Westwood couldn't putt well enough to make a run and earned his third straight top-three in a major; Fred Couples' double bogey on the 12th sideswiped his round, and he finished at seven-under; Anthony Kim's sizzling seven-under 65 could not make up for a week of missed chances; K.J. Choi's solid play wasn't enough to take the lead.
Mickelson won by simply playing better golf than every other golfer in the field. It's not that hard to do that when Woods is off, thanks to Lefty's monstrous talent, and it isn't difficult to imagine Woods spending 2010 in semi-hermitage, giving the seasoned, play-anywhere Mickelson a consistent edge in form. That's bad news for Woods' pursuit of Jack Nicklaus -- the U.S. Open is at Pebble Beach and the British Open is St. Andrews, and Tiger would be a prohibitive favorite at either track in any other year -- but bodes well for Mickelson's chances to have a dominant year, win another major or two, and seal himself as the second-greatest golfer of his era.
This buzz about Phil Mickelson won't last long. It never does: He's every golfer, a little paunchier, a little less manufactured, and lot less capable of selling wedges, polos, and advertisers than Tiger, and there's very little that is sexy about being the second best. His win is a feel-good story, one that lets people believe in karma and good things happening to good people.
But for this year, Phil Mickelson may be the best golfer on Earth. Maybe we should talk about that.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.