A Shot Here a Shot There - Another Second

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Phil Mickelson is a hot golfer. He's so hot that there is only one golfer better on this planet, and I'm not going to waste space telling you just who. This Mickelson fella, in four of his last five tournaments he has finished no worse than a tie for third. No wins in those five tournaments, but an imposing array of seconds and thirds if that sort of thing impresses you.
 
Mickelson is not impressed by seconds and thirds. And in New Orleans last week, it was the same old story, 50th verse. You know the punch line - he finished second. Mickelson dutifully met the press, he willingly signed autographs and posed for a photo or two - and went home extremely disappointed.
 
Wait a minute - what does a man have to do to feel good about a tournament? Second means you beat every man in the 144-man field, save one.
 
Well, when you begin the last round with a three-shot lead, you have to win to feel a little smug satisfaction. At the very least, you have to play a good solid round and get beat by an exceptional round of golf. Mickelson himself says you don't play a round that was just mediocre, an even-par 72 like he did Sunday, and leave feeling like a champ. And you don't hit a tee shot in the water just four holes from the end - again as he did.
 
And so, another one slips through his fingers. Six times this season he has finished in the top three. Only once has he won. This, friends, is getting old.
 
He should have won it last week. But then, how many times can you say that? Sunday's loss Mickelson disgustingly called 'a pathetic round of golf.' A pathetic round of golf when a man (David Toms) is hoisting up a 64 will almost always get you beaten.
 
Mickelson, I'm afraid, is becoming this generation's Greg Norman. Norman always played well enough to get into contention, but time after time he slipped when a birdie here or there would have won. Norman won 18 times, but for all his talent, he might have won 40.
 
Mickelson, too, has won 18 times. But this year there have been so many times when, had he not hit the wayward drive or missed the crucial putt, he would have at least three more.
 
ITEM: Pebble Beach - Could have won, but played a driver off the fairway on 18 and splashed down into the Pacific. Davis Love wins, Mickelson ties for third.
 
ITEM: Buick Invitational - This one he won in a playoff, though it looked for all the world like he would lose it in extra holes. After Love was erased in overtime by plugging one in the bunker, Mickelson got up on the tee the very next hole and hit his drive out-of-bounds. Astoundingly, Frank Lickliter hit the exact same shot. Mickelson re-teed and won it when Lickliter couldn't two-putt from 10 feet.
 
ITEM: Bay Hill - Mickelson shot an excellent 66 the last day, but Tiger Woods caromed it off a spectator and made birdie-3 in the side-pocket on 18 to win by one.
 
ITEM: BellSouth - On a 36-hole windup on a chilly, windy Sunday, Mickelson led after nine holes of the third round. He lost the lead, however, and couldn't close in on winner Scott McCarron because he plopped his drive into a creek on 9 in the afternoon. Mickelson finished tied for third.
 
ITEM: Masters - In a tense battle with Woods and David Duval over the final nine, he missed three birdie chances the final three holes and it's over. Woods wins, Mickelson third.
 
ITEM: New Orleans - After a month off to ponder what went wrong at Augusta, he showed no signs of rustiness here as he fired 66, 66 and 64 the first three rounds. But Mickelson drove into water on No. 2 Sunday, drove against a tree on No. 5, and drove into water again on 15. Toms does his thing and there you have it - game, set and match, while Mickelson shoots 72 and once again leaves disappointed.
 
'It's not like I'm going to dwell on it much,' he said, then went on his way while Toms was reveling in the victory ceremony.
 
Mickelson is 30 years old now. He's no longer the kid who won at Tucson while he was still in college, no longer the youngster who was going to turn the Tour upside-down when he got both feet on the ground. He's got the size-12s there now, he's reached the prime age for golfers, and the time has come for him to make his move.
 
Two things keep getting in his way: he's prone to hitting an errant drive or missing a crucial putt at the most inopportune of times; and there's a gentleman named Eldrick T. Woods who also plays golf. Were it not for him, Mickelson would be the No. 1 player in the world and would probably own at least four or five more victories.
 
Woods will be around five years longer than Mickelson, so Mickelson can't do anything about the bad luck of the calendar. He can, however, reduce the number of poor drives and putts.
 
Until Woods gets married and has a couple of kids, he is going to have more time for golf than Mickelson. He has time for golf, golf and more golf, while Mickelson has time for wife, children and golf. The time has come when he is busily tending to his family. Unfortunately, it's also time for him to be winning golf tournaments.
 
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