The Sweet Taste of Sugarloaf


DULUTH, Ga. -- Some would call it a lost week on the PGA Tour, but the BellSouth Classic made the most of its time slot on the schedule this year.
It falls the week before what is perhaps the most anticipated major of the four - The Masters - and its results have no effect whatsoever on the field at Augusta. Even with those strikes against it, the BellSouth Classic came out smelling like a rose in 2002 because it drew a quality field, a fairly dramatic finish and the golf course offered a sister-like feel to Augusta National.
Who enjoyed his time spent at the TPC at Sugarloaf the most? Thats easy, the winner, Retief Goosen. If youre looking for a confidence boost heading into a major, hoisting a trophy is an instant injection of self-assurance. He takes a relatively brand new putter and seven worldwide victories in a 10-month span along with him on his ride to Magnolia Lane.
Who had the second best time? Thats a little harder to answer. Its a toss-up between Jesper Parnevik and the Hooters Tour graduate Zach Johnson. For Zach, the reasons are obvious. As a Monday qualifier, he practically made more in one event than he did in an entire season in years past.
For Jesper, its not about money. Its about winning his first major. When I had the chance to ask him how he felt about his game on a scale of 1 to 10 after shooting a Sunday 65 in extremely difficult scoring conditions, he blurted, 10!
At the start of the week, Parnevik was concerned about not being able to play a much-needed draw off the tee for his go at The Masters. By weeks end, he told me he seems to have worked it out.
Whats truly amazing about the success stories of all these men is they can be overshadowed by the simple fact that Phil Mickelson didnt win.
Coming off of a three-week stretch in which Lefty faced much criticism about his aggressive style of play, Phil was under the microscope at the BellSouth Classic, just like hell be at The Masters. Once again, Mickelson had the opportunity to bring home the first place check thanks a two shot lead over Retief Goosen with only 14 holes remaining in the tournament, and once again, Mickelson was left answering questions about the one that got away.
You must respect the fact that this 20-time PGA Tour winner continues to give himself chances, and you must empathize with his duty to address those nagging two-foot putts that seem to plague him as of late. But the bottom line is, when is he going to win that first major title?
It is a question we all want answered, including Phil. But just for a moment, put all of those repetitive thoughts aside and ask yourself who are your top three favorite golfers to watch. Does the worlds No. 2 golfer make your list? Think about the drama he provides - last years Masters, last years PGA Championship, the 2002 Bay Hill Invitational and the Players Championship - he always seems to be there and he always leaves us wanting more.
While Phil continues his steadfast effort to play through the judgment that comes his way, he always seems to contend. His colleagues Davis Love and David Duval didnt win a major until they turned 30. Mickelson even said that the next 10 years are going to be his biggest window of opportunity on the PGA Tour.
Hes flashy, hes talented and he has a way of catching the critics eye. You get the feeling that come the back nine on Sunday at Augusta, the name 'Mickelson' will be right there.