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Still The Champ

The cutaway cut hard.
Phil Mickelson had just made what looked to be a career defining up and down par.
For 66. For the clubhouse lead.
A gut-check wedge after the gut wrenching hook off the tee.
Alas, he only set the table. Tiger ate the whole dinner.
But Mickelson sure made it taste sweeter. Forced the great one to be great.
And maybe thats what Tiger needed. A couple of good swift punches to the gut.
At San Diego he mixed it up and watched someone else get the decision. Dubai was a shot to the ribs.
The ensuing headlines? The smelling salt.
Of course Lefty, buoyed by a crowd looking for the upset and maybe another kind of hero and longterm challenger to match Woods, sure answered the bell.
And when he sparked a thunderous roar with his perfect third to the last, that camera cutaway went to Woods, and his look said you couldnt knock him down with a convoy of Mack trucks.

When he has that look, the one we saw all last year, then even luck and fate and all the breaks seem to cave in to Tiger.
Shoulders and necks and arms get in the way and instead of a ball hopping out of bounds, it sits open, ready to be fired and branded into another page of the golfing lore hes consistently and thrillingly written.

Using his good fortune, he then takes the mighty blow and it drops from orbit to birdie range, and the police officers gather like Bobbies at a British Open protecting Tiger from the close at hand gallery and just like last year you feel as though youve witnessed something important and exciting.
Then he fist fives his caddie, and now as a team, Ali and Bundini Brown, theyve uppercutted all the misguided doubters and magazine editors who wondered what was wrong.
Finally, at the last, as if there was ever a doubt, he sends em all to the canvas with a mighty haymaker to the jaw.
And the champ is the champ and you never had a doubt that he was, right?
As HE stood off the 18th, Mickelson acknowledged the Flutie to Phelan last-second heroics of the number one player in the world. But one sensed that Mickelson also knew HEd brought his best to the tussle, that HEd shot 66, got up and down when HE had to. And perhaps he also knew that as courageous as his par at 18 was, that next time he cant afford to hook his tee ball because it could take away any chance for birdie. Perhaps now he knows that 66 might not be good enough. He knows better than anyone now that next time itd better be 65. Clearly hes better for knowing that now.
Hopefully, Sunday was a tantalizing prelude to some major championship drama over the next decade. Mickelson feels strongly that hes coming into his prime 10-year period from age 30 to 40 where no one would be shocked if he won a handful of majors. Hell mostly have to get by Tiger to do that. But Mickelson most of all seems to have never given in to the widespread public glorification of Tiger that many of his peers have. Hes adopted the attitude which worked so well for feisty Gary Player, who learned to deal with and then defeat the great Jack Nicklaus on numerous occasions.
Player has been on record that he would never say that another guys simply on another level, one hes not capable of reaching. No, Player strongly espoused the theory that you look at your competition and figure out what it is you need to do to get better so you can beat him. And then you go and do it. To a greater degree than others, Mickelson seems to have done that physically and mentally.
Sunday was the mano- o- mano, 15 rounder WEVE clamored for.
If Bob May at the PGA was the little guy trying to chop down the giant, THIS was big heavyweight against big heavyweight. I for one will be back to watch when the rematch commences. And that, we suspect, will happen soon again.
Full Coverage of the 2001 Bay Hill Invitational