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Phil Wins But Hes Hidden By a Large Shadow

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Phil Mickelson is the second-best golfer on the planet. But you already knew that. You also know already who No. 1 is, so Im not going to belabor the rankings. Suffice it to say that No. 1 is quite possibly the best in history; otherwise you would also genuflect when you hear the name Mickelson.
 
He won again last week at the Canon Greater Hartford, this the 21st time he has prevailed. And he is only 32, which means he ought to have about 10 or 12 more productive years left him. Tiger is only 26, of course, so Mickelson will have that noose around his neck for as long as he plays. But by the time he retires, he undoubtedly will have done the job close to 40 times.
 
Hes already has such a torrent of criticism because he hasnt won a major, but study the list of major winners and tell me with a straight face that Mickelson isnt superior to all but one. Is he better than Fred Couples? Vijay Singh? David Duval? Nick Price? Curtis Strange? Jose Maria Olazabal? Any of the other guys who achieved nirvana for one week and won one? Doesnt it seem sorta silly to base a mans reputation on one major, when Steve Jones, Jeff Sluman, Retief Goosen, Mark Brooks, Wayne Grady, Mark Calcavecchia, Paul Lawrie ' among a boatload of others ' won one and no more?
 
Best player never to have won a major ' will that be Mickelsons sobriquet once he finally puts up his putter for good? And how unfair is such a label, anyway?
 
I dont think its unfair at all, said Mickelson at the Masters this year. I would say that if I won this week, I dont think anybody in the United States or what-have-you will look at me any differently than they have over the past 10 years.
 
I feel that the way Ive played over the past 10 years, and the tournaments that I have done well in, tend to show the style of player that I am. And a win in one tournament really isnt going to change that perception
 
But I dont think it is an unfair label. In fact, its a very complimentary label, if you think about it, because having not won one, to be considered the best out of all those players who have not is a compliment.
 
At 32 and with 21 victories, he has won more than Hale Irwin did in his entire regular tour career - or Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, Hubert Green, Tom Weiskopf. Hes tied with Lanny Wadkins, has one less win than Ray Floyd, only three less than Johnny Miller. And Mickelson is just now entering his real victory years.
 
Mickelson, though, is doomed to forever toil in the shadows of Woods. He professes to enjoy it, though one might think he takes out a Tiger doll every night and fills it full of pins.
 
Ive heard people mention, Oh, it must be difficult being born in the same era (as Woods), Mickelson says. I dont see it that way.
 
I see it as a wonderful opportunity to play with him, against him, and try and beat him. Its been difficult to have success against him. Ive been fortunate the few times I have had success; its very difficult.
 
But what an opportunity. It pushes me in practice, pushes me in preparation for the tournaments. So I really enjoy having the chance to play with him and against him.
 
Hes widely criticized, even from former players who are now critics, for being too aggressive, for blindly pulling the trigger on a low-percentage shot instead of laying up to a conservative spot. People point out that he went for 18 at Pebble Beach in two shots and hit the Pacific last year, that he tried to play a miracle recovery at 16 at Bay Hill and failed this year, tried this or that shot which most people consider low percentage.
 
But my goodness, hes won 21 times ' 21 times. Thats more than anyone who is currently playing the regular tour, save Tiger. So how often has the incredible shot paid off? He undoubtedly has paid a high price at times with the gambling style, but Flailin Phil could never be Phil the Conservationist.
 
I have thought about it, he conceded. I thought about my style of play, has it been detrimental to my game, and the answer keeps coming up ' no!
 
It keeps coming to me that not only have I had the results I wanted but for me to play my best golf, I need to play aggressively. I need to create shots. If I lose that attacking style, then I will not play the best golf that I am capable of playing.
 
And so he continues to just be Phil and continues to win. But he doesnt win majors. Maybe there are worse things in life.
 
As I look back on it, I dont care if I never win a major, Mickelson said earlier this year. I am not going to play this game without the enjoyment, without the fun that I have right now.
 
But I dont believe that is the case. I believe that if I continue to play the style of golf I have been playing ' and be patient ' I will win my share of majors.
 
The world is still waiting for Mickelsons first major. But the world long ago saw Mickelsons first victory. Last week we saw the 21st victory after only little more than 10 years in the game. We dont realize it, but we are watching two great players. One you are aware of ' Tiger. The other is a sleeper ' but its ' shhhhh ' Mickelson.