Phil Gives It Six More Years

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Phil Mickelson is 34 now, and they tell us that he is right in the middle of a golfers prime golfing years. Ernie Els is 35 - he, too is right there. Tiger Woods is still 3-4 years away from his prime time. Vijay Singh would seem to be on the downside at almost 42 (his birthday is Feb. 22), but last year was a major breakout year for trophies. Theres always one killjoy to ruin an otherwise good story.
 
But Mickelson is the man of the hour, with two wins the last two weeks. Hes taking this week off while the rest of the PGA Tour pitches camp at Riviera. Hell be back the following week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, and it will be most interesting to see how he does over 18 holes, head-to-head, against the best in the world ' and that includes Tiger, who wasnt in the field when Mickelson was winning at Phoenix and Pebble Beach. The final match in the Match Play, should he get that far, will be mano-a-mano for 36 holes.
 
They will all be there for that one, all except Els, who again is expected to enjoy a vacation in his native South Africa. That will be the first good read on The Phil, who now has 25 victories ' same as a man named Hogan, incidentally, at age 34. Hogan then had a breakout year and won 13 in his 35th year, and that seems well out of Mickelsons reach in 2005. Phil only plans to play in about 20 total this year.
 
Mickelson says, though, that his win total at the moment is the last thing on my mind. Ditto any such honors such as, say, the Hall of Fame. But he plans to go full-bore for the next few years to see how good a player he can be. Makes one wonder what has been his commitment the first 12 years of his career, but that could be just a minor point. Perhaps he means he just now fully understands his game, and now hes ready to put all that knowledge to good use.
 
The way I look at it right now is that Im 34 years old, he said, and I have committed myself right now until Im 40 to unquestionably play as hard as I can and to try to get as much out of this game and my career as I possibly can. I want to win as many tournaments and as many majors (as I can), and Im working very hard - even on my weeks off - to get my game sharp.
 
Its still questionable what will be the difference when he gets to be 41 ' the same age as Singh is now. Mickelson has a wife and three young children, and the inference is that when he is 40, he possibly will devote more time to them. By then, the kids will be aged 11, 10 and 7. But he plays only 20 tournaments a year now, meaning he already has 32 weeks off, plenty of time to play with the youngsters, it would seem. Be that as it may, he says the years from 34 to 40 will be his peak years.
 
When Im 40, Ill analyze what I want to do and start thinking about stuff like that, he said, meaning the Golf Hall of Fame. But for the next six years, I unquestionably want to be committed to winning tournaments.
 
Why the fixation now on winning golf tournaments? Well, there are some who say that he has become as skilled a player as there is in the world. He has become affiliated with a couple of skill coaches such as Rick Smith and Dave Pelz. And he simply wants to see what he can do.
 
I think last year when I started working on 150 yards on in, my distance control got much, much better, he said, explaining the difference in pre-Phil and post-Phil.
 
Ive heard great players in the past say the key to playing good golf was being pin-high (after the approach shot to the green). And last year was when I really started to notice that had become a strength in my game. I feel like it started in January of last year, and progressively has gotten better to this point.
 
Mickelson is mentioned in the rarified air of the Big Four ' meaning Singh, Woods, Els and himself. But he dislikes the term. The Big Four should be more like the Big Ten, according to him.
 
I think the concept of a Big Four is not entirely accurate now, he says. I feel like theres a number of top players outside of the four guys.
 
Dont get me wrong ' its nice to be referred to as one of those four. But with Reteif Goosen playing so well, and with Sergio Garcia making some nice strides and winning a couple of times last year, Todd Hamilton stepping up and winning the British, Padraig Harrington playing so well - we have so many guys that I feel its not really fair to just single out four, because there are a lot more than four who are playing at the highest level.
 
And the vast majority of the time, Sundays are devoted to beating five or six guys, not just one. Its still rare that that one will be another of the so-called Big Four. But Mickelson said he still gets a thrill out of the chance to play one of the sports biggies.

I enjoy the challenge and opportunity to compete against guys like Tiger and Retief and Sergio and Ernie ' guys who are such wonderful players, he said. We in golf dont have the type of head-to-head atmosphere like we have in tennis, where everything is a head to head match. We only get it at, lets say, in the Match Play, or the Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup.
 
Now is the time for Phil, and these are the years. At 25 wins and counting, he has a golden opportunity to lay down some pretty impressive victory totals. Lets see what happens.
 
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