When Phil Mickelson won four times last year and so rudely interrupted a couple of Tiger's streaks along the way, it almost seemed like the number one player in the world had a challenger of sorts. 2001, however, has given us reason to doubt. We forgave him this year at Pebble when the 3-wood bounced off the rocks at 18. We were somewhat amused at the Buick Invitational when Phil's double bogey was good enough to beat Frank Lickliter's triple in the playoff. We felt sorry for him at the Masters when what could have been a day of redemption over Tiger turned out to be a night filled with thoughts of simply what could have been. The emotional scar went deep, perhaps deeper than we imagined. His recent performances in New Orleans and at the The Colonial prove that.
In probably three or four of my most recent interviews with Phil dating back to the Byron Nelson more than a week ago, he has emphasized the fact that he's had a lot of opportunities this year, and hasn't cashed in nearly enough. He's not satisfied with just the one win he's garnered, and why should he be? At least three others were practically his before the back nine on Sunday, but something has changed. He doesn't have that same stare that had golf balls searching desperately for the bottom of the hole last year because he is experiencing an extraordinary lack of confidence.
On Saturday at the Colonial, he tried to convince the public that he was more than up to the challenge of winning the tournament. When asked if he felt comfortable being the hunted, he said 'I love being the hunted, bring it on.' At the time it seemed like maybe a new Mickelson was standing in front of us, but after watching Sunday's performance, it seems like the only person that he was trying to convince of his confidence was himself.
After blowing a four-shot lead in Fort Worth, Mickelson finally told the press that he had some issues, mental blocks I believe he called them. I just want to know WHAT has caused them. It's not like he hasn't gone for years without the dubious title of 'best player never to win a major.' That alone can affect your ego in the big ones, but now his despair has reached the 'not quite as big ones' - so to speak - the tournaments where he is almost always the favorite.
Some may speculate that the domination of Tiger Woods has left Phil feeling empty, almost vulnerable, any time that the world's number one player is in the field. Some may feel that his final round fall at the Masters was enough to shake his belief in himself for quite some time to come. Whatever the case, the bigger question is, how will he fix it? When I asked him at the Colonial what steps he would take to eliminate his mental block, he replied simply, 'Get into contention at the Kemper.' He probably will. It'll be interesting to see how he handles it.
One thing Mickelson HAS handled well, though, is the fans and media. After each and every draining Sunday finish, he has stopped to explain himself to the print and television media and he has satisfied nearly all his admirers with autographs regardless of his score. Throughout his tumultuous ride Phil continues to be a classy guy and that, we all know, is hard to do.
When will Phil Mickelson turn it around and regain his confidence? Share your thoughts.