Chills and Spills with Phil the Thrill

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Phil Mickelson is Scary Movie, Theater of the Absurd and Greek Tragicomedy all wrapped up into a dream shared by Tarantino, Fellini, Hitchcock and the Coen Brothers.
 
The best part is the unpredictability.
 
For that matter, throw in a little Edgar Allan Poe. At any given moment on any given Sunday any one of his pendulum swings can leave a pit in your stomach.
 
Prior to Sunday, perhaps you could argue the point. But not any more. Of the top players in the world today, Phil Mickelson is the one from whom you can never quite be sure what youre going to get.
 
John Daly, you say? Wrong.
 
Daly is certainly unpredictable. But golfs Paul Bunyan'even though hes still the stuff of legends'simply isnt among the worlds best players any more. Among other things, he doesnt have his card to play on the PGA TOUR. And his world rank had plummeted to No. 492 prior to last week.
 
Phil, on the other hand, is still the goods and The Thrill
 
Sunday in China he squandered a five-shot lead during the final round of the HSBC Champions. Then, trailing by one, he hit a ball in the water on the 72nd hole. Yet he still managed to worm his way into a playoff with Ross Fisher and Lee Westwood.
 
Two holes later he converted a short birdie putt to win his fourth tournament of the year. Phil has always been an American brand and rarely ventures from our mainland. So it seems extra strange that, because of co-sanctioning, the HSBC was the first official event of the 2008 European Tour schedule.
 
Which means, yes, at the moment, Phil Mickelson, if he were a member of the European Tour, would lead the Order of Merit.
 
Anyway, Mickelson himself is acutely aware of the fact that there are more wild rides in his golf history than there are at Disney World. It feels amazing, Mickelson said. The whole day was a whirlwind.
 
How about the whole last four years for Lefty.
 
Lets see: Two Masters victories; one PGA Championship; one blown U.S. Open in 2006; a widely-scrutinized coaching switch from Rick Smith to Butch Harmon; a wrist injury that ruined his chances at Oakmont where he had hoped to win his first U.S. Open and make up for the debacle on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot.
 
Its a funny game, golf, Mickelson said after the China playoff and moments before boarding a plane back to the States that signaled the beginning a two and a half month layoff from competitive golf. We say that a lot.
 
What Mickelsons plan also revealed, indirectly, was he will not be playing in the Mercedes-Benz Championship in early January. As recently as last week, Mercedes-Benz officials were still holding out hope for a Mickelson appearance at Kapalua even though he hasnt played there since 2001.
 
Mickelson is still No. 2 in the world rankings behind Woods. But, to repeat, no one at golfs highest level takes a back seat to Phil when it comes to finding himself in the middle of all kinds of dramas.
 
Last week in Singapore Mickelson posted a 79 and finished 16 shots behind winner Angel Cabrera. A throat malady (more on that in the next paragraph) had reduced his voice to little more than a whisper and sent him, along with his caddie, to the doctors office.
 
Phils pretty sure he picked up the bug breathing the ash-choked air during the wild fires that raged through Southern California before he departed to Asia. More drama: Houses in Phils Rancho Santa Fe neighborhood burned to the ground during the fires. Mickelsons is still standing.
 
Meanwhile, back in China, Phils final-round total of 76 included six penalty shots. Thats the bad news. The good news is that his first foray to the Far East'with wife and three young children in tow'gave him two tournament weeks to test new Callaway equipment under the gun and get another fortnight of tournament reps under his belt with the changes Harmon has been instituting in his swing.
 
Is Mickelson better theater than Woods?
 
The answer is hes a different kind of theater.
 
Tigers plots run more toward John Wayne. They are compelling but more straightforward.
 
Phils scripts?
 
Lets put it this way. If they ever published an unauthorized book on the pitches and yaws of his high-flying career, the writer for the job would be Stephen King.

Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - HSBC Champions