Wild Ride on the Phil Roller-Coaster

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 19, 2007, 5:00 pm
Phil Mickelson is a living, breathing roller-coaster. And watching him play is like being a blind-folded passenger, never knowing which way its going to zig or zag, or when its reached its peak and is ready to plummet downward.
Mickelson took us for another wild ride Sunday at Riviera Country Club (Is it even legal to refer to Riviera without famed or historic preceding it?).
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson will likely play in three events before the Masters Tournament. (WireImage)
He had a three-shot lead, blew it, regained a two-stroke advantage, and then gave it all away again. He made birdie with a utility club from off the green and made bogey after stubbing a wedge from ON the green. He hit a tree and still made par, but couldnt hit a 3-foot putt to do the same.
Sidebar: Watching Mickelson stand over anything inside of 3 feet is like listening to a Miss USA contestant answer a random question during the Interview portion of the pageant: You have absolutely no idea what's going to happen. All you can do is grit your teeth, hold your breath, and hope it's not all too bad or embarassing.
Speaking of bad, this wasn't just classic Phil Mickelson on Sunday; it was plain bad golf down the stretch.
Despite everything that had happened over the course of 17 holes in the final round of the Nissan Open, Mickelson still held a one-shot lead. All he had to do was make par and he walks away a winner. But instead of doing so and having us lavish him with praise, he left us scratching our heads wondering what had happened.
Sound familiar?
This was the first time since the 2006 U.S. Open that Mickelson had reached the 72nd hole with no margin for error.
Hell never admit if that Winged Foot debacle was on his mind while standing on the 18th tee box ' and it likely wasnt ' but the end result didnt do anything to help exorcise any demons.
Another blocked tee shot into the left rough. Another poor decision on his second shot. A bad chip. A poor putt. And viola: another Mickelson disappointment.
It was kind of like a Mini Me version of Winged Foot, with everything being a little less severe, but nonetheless leading to failure.
Its easy to dog pile on Mickelson when hes down; kick him a little and poke fun. But, we shouldnt forget the fact that he won just one week ago and came within a swing of making it two-in-a-row.
Without question, he sometimes deserves the negative criticism (this is one of those cases, as he played terribly over the final hole of regulation and the three playoff holes). Other times, however, its a gross overreaction.
Thats just something Mickelson has dealt with his entire career. Before he won the 2004 Masters, he was a guy who couldnt win the Big One. All of those runner-up finishes and top-5s were viewed in an unflattering light. But then he finally gets it done, and, all of a sudden, all of those previous close calls justify a tremendous major championship record.
When he wins, like he did at Pebble Beach, he receives glowing reviews. But when he doesnt, particularly when it comes as a result of his own doings, he gets panned.
Everyone gets applauded in victory and criticized in defeat, but Mickelson gets hailed and railed; our emotions in regards to him and his actions are much more extreme.
Compare him to someone like Jim Furyk, for example. Had Furyk won the AT&T and then had a Phil-like performance at the Nissan, it would have been viewed as a very good two-week run. People would have said that he just ran out of steam down the stretch ' good effort. On the other hand, we consider what Mickelson did a total implosion. In fact, we almost forget that he even won a week ago.
We don't jump on Furyk for the fact that he has 27 top-10 finishes over the last two-plus seasons, but only three victories ' and hes supposed to be the second best player in the world.
But we just love to gang up on Phil.
Why is that? Why are we more critical of Mickelson than of any other player chasing Tiger?
It could have to do with the fact that Mickelson is closer to Tiger in terms of raw talent than anyone else and we hold him to a different standard. It could be because Mickelson is truly Tiger's chief rival, particularly in the majors. Or, it could be because Tiger and Phil don't really get along and, for the most part, you're either a Tiger fan or a Phil fan, but not both.
It's probably all of these things; along with the fact that Mickelson has a knack for beating himself, often doing so in dramatic fashion.
He did it once again Sunday. While Charles Howell III deserves credit for hanging in there and making enough pars to win, this was much more of a Mickelson loss.
This will prove to be a disappointment for Phil, but hardly a major setback. Compared to this last time he blew a one-stroke lead with one hole to play, this is a celebration.
He now has six weeks and three tournaments in which to play before he defends his title at the Masters. And it's absoutely impossible to know what Phil will do before then, or even what, as the commercial said, he will do next.
The Mickelson roller-coaster has more twists and turns than San Francisco's Lombard Street. And the good news is that it never stays down -- or up, for that matter -- very long. So whichever way it's headed now, it won't be long before it's going in a totally opposite direction.
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    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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