Mickelson Wants Player of the Year

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Having captured the PGA Championship for his fifth victory of the season, Vijay Singh believes he has wrapped up player of the year awards barring an exceptional finish. Phil Mickelson is looking for an exceptional finish.
 
Despite overwhelming success in the majors - his first Grand Slam title at the Masters, a combined five shots behind in the other three - Mickelson still is a long shot to win the award he wants the most.
 
Lefty probably should have won it in 1996 when he had a season-high four victories. But then British Open champion Tom Lehman won the season-ending Tour Championship to surpass Mickelson on the money list and get the most votes from his peers as PGA Tour player of the year.
 
The last couple of years, Mickelson has finished behind Tiger Woods.
 
Now he is chasing Singh, and he has not given up.
 
Mickelson has a slim lead over Ernie Els in the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average. He is $1.3 million behind Singh on the money list, although there are three tournaments left that pay at least $1 million to the winner.
 
Where he is woefully behind is victories - five for Singh, two for Mickelson.
 
'If I were able to get one, probably two wins, it would maybe be enough to close the gap,' Mickelson said. 'The player of the year award is something I've wanted for a long time. I've never had it. I thought I had a good chance in '96 and lost out to Lehman.
 
'I would certainly consider changing my schedule, adding a few tournaments to try to get a win.'
 
It all started Thursday with the NEC Invitational, as good a place as any to start.
 
Mickelson won at Firestone South in 1996, and he has six other top 10s in 10 appearances. Lefty also will play in the Canadian Open the week before the Ryder Cup, then figure out what he wants to do.
 
Singh's message: You better play hard.
 
The big Fijian has his best chance ever to supplant Woods at No. 1 in the world this week, although Singh no longer trusts a system that he feels penalizes guys who play as much as he does.
 
'Player of the year ... I think I've got it pretty much sealed off unless somebody goes out there and wins three or four or five events in a row,' Singh said. 'I just have to keep playing the way I'm doing and I think I should be all right with that. Phil has got the only chance. He's probably the one that can throw me off that.'
 
What would really please Singh is to make it a clean sweep - player of the year, money title and No. 1 in the world.
 
'I'm very close, but my focus this week is this tournament,' Singh said. 'If I can pull this one off, then I'll probably take the rest of the year off.'
 
Just kidding.
 
For Woods, this tournament is no laughing matter.
 
He broke Greg Norman's record Monday for most weeks at No. 1 - 332 weeks since turning pro in 1996 - and has been atop the world ranking a record 262 consecutive weeks. The previous record was 96 consecutive weeks, which Woods shattered three years ago.
 
'As far as the No. 1 ranking, it's certainly a point of honor,' Woods said Wednesday. 'You've had to play hard and you've had to play well, and for me to have done it for as long as Greg has, I've been very consistent.'
 
But it's not just consistency.
 
Winning is a large part of the No. 1 ranking, which is why Woods is on the verge of losing it. His only victory this year was the Match Play Championship in February, and with only five tournaments left on his schedule, he most likely will end his streak of five consecutive years with at least five victories.
 
'Greg was No. 1 in the world for a long period of time and he was winning two to four a year, and I did the same thing,' Woods said. 'I did five-plus for five straight years, and now Vijay has won five times this year. That's how you do it. You don't get to No. 1 in the world by finishing top 10. You have to win.'
 
And that's why Woods is holding out hope that No. 1 still belongs to him until someone takes it away.
 
His game has not been sharp all year, although Woods can't argue with the venue.
 
Firestone South has been one of his favorite tracks since he turned pro, never finishing lower than fifth in his six appearances and winning the NEC Invitational three straight times (1999-01) in a variety of ways - by one shot, by 12 shots and in a seven-hole playoff against Jim Furyk for his only victory in the summer of '01.
 
'I think any time you come to an event where you've won before and you've had success, you automatically feel comfortable and confident, if your game is not up to form or if you're playing great,' Woods said. 'I've come in both ways into this tournament, and for some reason I've played well.'
 
This would be a good time to start.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - WGC-NEC Invitational
  • Leaderboard - WGC-NEC Invitational
     
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