Critics remember this for now: Mickelson has won three times at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am where the golfs glitterati will gather this week down on the Monterey Peninsula, a place where the reds are redder, the blues are bluer and Clint Eastwoods squint is worth the price of admission.
But, yo Lefty. Whats up with the missed cut at FBR late last month in your season debut followed by an indifferent week at Torrey Pines?
You told us at Scottsdale you were fresh, ready and more physically fit in your lower body which was supposed to produce a stronger base and more stability in your action. Then you went out and missed your first check in a season opener since you turned pro back in 1992 when you were still wearing collars turned up.
It just didnt come together, you said, after following a horrific opening round 76 with a desultory Friday 73 to whiff the weekend by seven shots at FBR. Ill get some good work done this weekend and hopefully come out sharp and ready to play next Thursday in San Diego.
By the time Thursday at Torrey Pines rolled around you had dropped to No. 4 in the world rankings. But your putter turned Round One into a two-under 70 on the tougher South course. Your new FT-9 driver had arrived along with the official blessing of the USGA. And you told us you now had a weapon that would eliminate the wide left block off the tee that had been your undoing in too many crucial situations.
Next thing anybody knew you were slopping it around the piece-of-cake North Course at Torrey Pines and posting a Friday 72 that left tire tracks all over your back. You backed that up with a Saturday 73. And your fairways in regulation percentages the first three days were 50, 36 and 43 per cent respectively.
Sunday brought with it four bogeys in the first six holes and a big fat 75 that moved you from a T20 down to a T42 at a seaside haunt not far from where you grew up and very close to your golfing heart.
Your driving accuracy ranking for the week was T52; your corresponding greens in regulation number was T48. You needed at least 30 putts in three of the four rounds. And by Monday morning you had slipped to No. 5 in the world rankings.
We dont want this to sound like were picking on you, Phil. Lord knows, theres been enough of that over the years.
I mean, Jim Furyk still hasnt teed it up yet this year. Vijay Singh has a sore knee. Anthony Kim has a sore shoulder. Ernie Els tied for 31st at Qatar. Steve Stricker gave one away at the Hope with a Sunday 77. And J.B. Holmes, who had won two of the last FBR Opens, also failed to make it to Saturday in Scottsdale.
Its just that youre Phil and none of those other guys are.
With Tiger Woods, who became a father (healthy baby boy, Charles Axel) for the second time Sunday, still in dry dock waiting for his knee to give him the full green light, youre going to be an even bigger story than you usually are if you dont start posting red numbers in bunches some time soon.
Tiger used to be amused at all those slump stories that would begin to surface when he would go two tournaments without a win. Well, you admitted last season wasnt what you had expected even though you won twice.
Your words last Tuesday: It (2008) wasnt what I hoped the year would be.
Later that day somebody asked you this question: Have you ever played in such a way to just hit it as far as you want no matter where it goes because you know hitting on the length of the hole and the layout that with grooves and with your ability to spin it you wont be punished?
Your answer, on the official transcript, left a few people scratching their heads. Your words: Thats not why I try to hit it as hard as I can, thats just because Im stupid at times and enjoy trying to get it out there and have an ego and want to be one of the longer guys. But its not because I think that Im going to score better necessarily. Ive seen the stats. (Short game coach Dave) Pelz has shown me repeatedly the fact that you can hit the ball 10 per cent farther, which would be 20 or 30 yards, and it doesnt equate to lower scores.
Even if we write that one off to transcriber error, the context at this point in your Tuesday presser was equipment and square grooves and a lot of inside baseball on golf. And it was kind of confusing. Then Nick Faldo on Golf Channel questioned several of your strategy decisions on the first two days of the Buick Invitational. It was hard to argue with Faldos criticism when you hit a driver off the deck from a fairway when the green was unreachable.
Theres one theory floating around that the more Tiger stays away, the harder it is for the top ranked players in the world to maintain their focus. I think thats mostly hogwash but there may be a grain of truth to the notion that its more difficult to take aim at a target when that target isnt in your field of vision.
Meanwhile, more and more people are noticing youre not a kid anymore. I dont think 38 is all that old, you said last week. But I feel like Ive been out here quite a while.
We know you and your trainer, Sean Cochran, are more focused on the majors than ever before this year. And we know this could mean you will be sharper the second week of April (Augusta) and the third week of June (U.S. Open) at the expense of the California swing where you have always played so well.
'I can certainly feel some rust,' Mickelson said late Sunday.
But what you need to know is one more mediocre week or, horrors, one more missed cut, is going to ignite a blaze of second-guessing if the pilot light doesnt go on pretty damn soon.
Thats just the way it works. Like it or not, Phil, you got one more week to kick it into gear or a bunch of impatient people too shortsighted to get you major championship plan, will begin to howl. Thats why they keep score.
The beauty of the flip side of all of this is a decisive victory at Pebble will stamp you as an early favorite for The Masters.
As Warren Beatty said, with a smile on his face, before the Feds gunned him down in the movie, Bonnie and Clyde: Lifes great, aint it.
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