At Long Last


The Players ChampionshipPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Each New Year’s Eve, the Mickelsons gather for one of the more structured resolution ceremonies, scribbling objectives for the coming year and placing them in a jar that isn’t opened until the next year’s celebration.

Although Mickelson declined to reveal his “to do” list for 2010 on Saturday at TPC Sawgrass, safe bet green jacket No.3 and wife Amy’s improved health were on the agenda. Check and check.

That third resolution is open to all sorts of interpretations – Krispy Kremes at every Tour stop, Five Guys Burgers franchises instead of champion’s crystal, more pine straw at golf courses because no one has made more hay from the hay than Lefty this year.

Or, maybe Mickelson’s final resolution is as simple as 1, 2, 3. The simple math made maddening by the pocket protectors who crunch the World Golf Ranking numbers. The BCS doesn’t do math minutia like the World Ranking, but this much we know: on Sunday for the first time in a Hall of Fame career that spans two decades, 38 PGA Tour titles and four major mantel pieces Mickelson can ascend to the top spot in the ranking.

Improbable? Maybe, but which scenario is more likely on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass, a Mickelson victory or Tiger Woods finishing outside the top 5? That’s the way the cosmic tumblers must fall for Lefty to climb to No. 1.

For his part, Mickelson was having no part of the “will he, won’t he” debate following his 6-under 66 on Saturday that left him five strokes behind perennial English front-runner Lee Westwood.

“I don't know why you keep asking about that. I mean, we're right in the middle of a tournament here. That's the last thing on my mind right now,” said Mickelson, sans the telling grin he normally offers to those he’s just stiff-armed. “I'm trying to get ready for tomorrow's round and again, get in striking distance, and you keep changing the subject.”

TPC Sawgrass is getting more difficult with each sweltering gust and on a leaderboard that looks a lot like the traffic choking A1A this weekend, congested and confused, Mickelson and Lucas Glover are the only two players who have hoisted Grand Slam hardware within the last 12 months within five shots. That Lefty is chasing a player, Westwood, with something less than a closer’s best record is also worth considering.

Besides, try as he might to dismiss the importance of the “top dog” spot, Mickelson’s swing coach Butch Harmon was more forthcoming than his man earlier this week during a candid interview on XM Radio’s PGA Tour Network.

“At this point in time would it be important for Phil to be the No. 1 golfer in the world, you’re damn right it would be,” Harmon said. “It’s what they are all playing for.

“Phil has teased me about it, He says, ‘I know you’ve taken two guys to No. 1 in the world.’ He says, ‘I’m going to get that No. 1 so you can get No. 3 and I’m not going to fire you . . . yet.’”

That Mickelson is within one solid Sunday of the only thing in golf, save a claret jug and U.S. Open trophy, that has eluded him is a testament to his play over the last eight months.

Since Dave Stockton Sr. turned back the clock on Mickelson’s putting, he’s won three times (Tour Championship, WGC-HSBC Champions, Masters) and out played Woods head-to-head in four consecutive events. If form holds on Sunday at Sawgrass that number seems certain to climb.

Whether Mickelson overtakes Woods, at least at this point, seems inevitable. Whether he’s able to maintain that spot, however, depends largely on Woods, who used to play with a Nike Swoosh on his driver but after one too many popped up tee balls this week now seems to be doing so with idiot marks on his club.

During a different time Mickelson might set up homestead atop the ranking, a truth that didn’t escape Mickelson’s youthful playing companion Troy Merritt on Saturday.

“In a different era when Tiger didn’t do what he did (Mickelson) definitely would have the game (to be No. 1),” Merritt said.

Funny that the 24 year old would talk of different eras on the eve of a potential new era, at least mathematically. Mickelson may not want to talk about World Ranking possibilities, but there’s little doubt it’s on his mind.

And it’s a good bet it was on his New Year’s resolution list as well.