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Will Phil Bounce Back

2007 Big Questions Editor's Note: is counting down its top 5 stories from the world of golf in 2006 and looking ahead to the five 'Big Questions' on the PGA TOUR in 2007. This is our No. 3 question for the upcoming season.
They asked a few years ago in a commercial, What will Phil do next? We ask now, Will Phil recover from his Winged Foot hangover?
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson is a four-time U.S. Open runner-up.
Phil Mickelson was closing in on the mountain top last year until he lost his grip, slipped, tumbled down the steep slope, and never came close to reaching the summit again.
It took just six swings to change the course of golf history. A double bogey on the final hole of the 2006 U.S. Open dropped Phil from one up to one down. And then he basically dropped off the golfing map.
Mickelson was leading the U.S. Open entering the par-4 18th at Winged Foot. He then sliced his drive off a hospitality tent, hit a tree with his second shot, put his third into a fried-egg lie in the left greenside bunker, took two more shots to get his ball on the green, and then made an 8-footer for double.
Had Mickelson made his par, or even a bogey and then defeated Geoff Ogilvy in a Monday playoff, he would have become just the third player in the last 70+ years to win three consecutive major championships.
It also would have been his first U.S. Open title and put him three legs along the way to completing the career Grand Slam. And, with Tiger Woods missing the cut, it would have established him as the games best (for that moment in time).
Winning three majors in a row and Phil Mickelson would have been the best. And we would be saying, Tiger Woods, where have you gone? said Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo.
But none of that ever came to fruition. Instead, he finished runner-up in this event for the fourth time in his career. And the devastation was clearly visible on his face and in his speech after the loss.
Im such an idiot, he said, that final word plastered on newspaper headlines across the country the next day.
Mickelson played only five more stroke-play events after June 18. Only once during that stretch did he finish inside the top 20; that coming at the PGA Championship, where he faltered on Sunday with a 74 to tie for 16th ' 12 back of Woods, who ended all doubt as to who was The Man with six straight PGA TOUR wins to close the season.
Mickelson was last seen on TV with a golf club in his hands at the Ryder Cup ' and he didnt wield his weapon very well, brutally going 0-4-1.
After that was over, his season was over. Mickelson called it quits, went home to his family. He skipped the season-ending TOUR Championship. He said that he wouldnt play in the season-beginning Mercedes Championships.
Mickelson is scheduled to make his return to tournament golf at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, nearly four months after the U.S. was handed yet another embarrassing loss at the hands of the Europeans.
Hes won the Bob Hope before ' twice, in fact. He first did so in a playoff in 2002. He did so again in a playoff in 2004.
On both occasions, the Hope was Mickelsons first event of the season. And in 2004 he was coming off a dismal 03 campaign, one in which he failed to win anything and went 0-5 in the Presidents Cup.
There are some similarities to make one think that he can bounce right back and do it again. However, Mickelson has never entered a season with this much baggage. As frustrating as times were before he was a major champion, nothing has hurt him as much as what transpired on the final hole Sunday in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
So will he recover from his hangover? Will he be the man who made it to No. 2 in the world and had one hand on Tigers crown?
He has too much talent not to recover,' said Golf Channel and CBS analyst Peter Oosterhuis, 'but who knows?
One would think that he would, but having not played at the end of the year, and having not played very well when he did, there are some questions he has to answer (in 2007).
And, according to Nobilo, Mickelson should be itching to answer said questions when he does get back on the course.
Phil wants 07 to start ' erase the second half of 06 like it didnt happen and then start again, Nobilo said. There has been a hangover effect. It has to end soon. Thats why I think he took off all the time at the end of 06 (to mentally recover).
Did it work? Will he win right away, or will he have to ease into the season ' build up momentum and confidence heading into his title defense at the Masters Tournament?
Or will it take longer for Mickelson to regain his swagger? A year? Two? More?
What happens the next time he takes a lead heading down the back nine of a major championship? And will he have that opportunity any time soon?
Perhaps its still appropriate to ask, What will Phil do next?
Related Links:
  • Reviewing 2006; Previewing 2007
  • Mickelson Wins Masters Tournament
  • Mickelson Collapses at U.S. Open