Notes Who Fills Phils Shoes

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PGA TourAUGUSTA, Ga. -- Golf is now accepting applications to take over Phil Mickelson's role as the best player to have never won a major championship.
 
The requirements should include at least 10 victories on the PGA Tour. International players are eligible, but only if they have won at least once in the United States, a World Golf Championship or seven European tour money titles. Applicants should be entering their prime, or at least be at the tail end of it.
 
Don't expect the position to be filled quickly.
 
No one really paid any attention to the 'best without a major' until Tom Kite languished with the label for nearly 15 years, piling up 16 victories until he finally won the '92 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach when he was 42.
 
Since then, the torch has been passed to a steady succession of worthy candidates:
 
-Paul Azinger had 10 victories when he won the '93 PGA Championship at 33.
 
-Corey Pavin had 12 victories when he won the '95 U.S. Open at 36.
 
-Davis Love III had 10 victories when he won the '97 PGA Championship at 33.
 
-Mark O'Meara had 14 victories when he won the '98 Masters at 41.
 
-David Duval had 12 victories when he won the '01 British Open at 29.
 
-Mickelson had 22 victories when he won the Masters on Sunday at 33.
 
Under those guidelines, there aren't any players that stand out as the best without a major. None will be hounded about the burden at every major, or reminded of it every time he wins on the PGA Tour.
 
The only players worthy of consideration are John Cook, 46, and Scott Hoch, 48, each with 11 victories and close calls in the majors, and Jay Haas, whose ninth and the most recent PGA Tour victory was in 1993.
 
Kenny Perry is 43, but he has only six victories, three of them during a three-month stretch last year.
 
The most likely candidates are overseas.
 
Padraig Harrington of Ireland is No. 8 in the world rankings, but he still hasn't won on the PGA Tour and his 18 runner-up finishes on the European tour leaves him with more to prove.
 
Darren Clarke has captured two World Golf Championships - he beat Tiger Woods at the Match Play and won last year at the NEC Invitational. Still, he has contended on the back nine at a major only twice in the last seven years.
 
The focus tends to shift to youth - Adam Scott (23) and Sergio Garcia (24).
 
Scott won The Players Championship, then missed the cut in his next two events and shot 80 in the first round of the Masters. Garcia has won only three times in the five years he has been playing the PGA Tour.
 
They have not been around long enough to warrant the tag, and it would be unfair to ask them why they haven't won a major for at least another four years.
 
Drama by Design
So much for those fears that the redesign at Augusta National took away the drama.
 
There were 12 eagles in the final round of the Masters, nine of them on the par 5s. Clearly, officials set the course up to allow for a Sunday charge, and for big numbers if anyone got too careless.
 
'They wanted to see a run,' Davis Love III said. 'We heard that was their strategy, for the course to play hard Thursday, hard Friday and easy Sunday. That's what they got.'
 
Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and 19-year-old Casey Wittenberg each shot a 31 on the back nine.
 
Then again, Len Mattiace shot 32 on the back nine last year despite a bogey on the 18th hole when the course was still drying out and played long.
 
Checking in with the Big Wiesy
The U.S. Golf Association changed its rules a couple of years ago to allow amateurs to receive free equipment from manufacturers without losing their amateur status.
 
Still, there is a lot of attention on 14-year-old Michelle Wie, who is playing more tournament golf than Greg Norman. Sports agents and equipment reps are starting to show up whenever she plays.
 
Because of the increasing scrutiny, USGA executive director David Fay recently went to Hawaii to meet with Wie and her parents about the trappings of being a high-profile prodigy.
 
Fay declined to talk about his meeting, saying only that he also met with Tiger Woods and his father long before he turned pro in 1996.
 
B.J. Wie said through e-mail, 'Our meeting did not have any specific topics to discuss. We just got to know each other better. David was very kind in explaining some of the USGA amateur rules to us.'
 
Sulky Spaniard
Sergio Garcia had one of the most exciting finishes at the Masters. He played his final 11 holes in 8 under par, going eagle-birdie-birdie and watching his birdie putt on the 18th come within an inch of falling.
 
But instead of celebrating the best score of the tournament (66) and his best finish at the Masters (tie for fourth), Garcia offered bitter remarks to reporters, complaining that 'you guys only look at a handful of players.'
 
'When we're playing well, we're the best,' he said. 'And even if we're playing well and things are not going our way, we can be shocking. So, it's nice to see how fair you guys are.'
 
Always Grining
Arnold Palmer never lost hope.
 
During his final round at the Masters, the King had to wait for the 15th fairway to clear. Looking at the masses around him, Palmer leaned over to Bob Estes and said wistfully, 'Four more holes.'
 
Then, Palmer leaned over to him again with that daring grin.
 
'Birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie,' he said.
 
Divots
Donations from players, captains and their assistants at the Presidents Cup has resulted in $210,000 going to the South African Golf Development Board to help draw more people to golf. ... K.J. Choi of South Korea usually has a translator at his side for interviews, but he agreed to speak in English for the television cameras after his second round at the Masters. The words were slightly fractured, but he came across well. ... How's this for exclusive company: Phil Mickelson joins Mike Weir, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the only players to win the Bob Hope Classic and the Masters in the same year. Does that make the Hope the fifth major?
 
Stat of the Week
There were 55 birdies on the 18th hole in the 2001 Masters. Since the redesign, there have been 48 birdies on the 18th hole the last three years combined.
 
Final Word
'He's doing it with three kids. We haven't even got a ring on Tiger.' - Jack Burke Jr., on Phil Mickelson's career.
 
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