Phil Mickelson: Early Success Should Mean Singles Showdown with Rory McIlory

Ethan Grant@DowntownEGAnalyst ISeptember 29, 2012

MEDINAH, IL - SEPTEMBER 29:  Phil Mickelson of the USA (L) walks with Luke Donald of Europe on the third hole during day two of the Morning Foursome Matches for The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club on September 29, 2012 in Medinah, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Before the 2012 Ryder Cup started, you would have laughed if it were suggested that Phil Mickelson would take the final pairing of the singles matches, given his 11-17-6 total record during Ryder Cup play.

But now, after a sparkling 3-0 start in the Four Ball and Foursomes play with teammate Keenan Bradley, Mickelson is forcing United States captain Davis Love III to make some tough calls across the board. One of those calls should be to pair Mickelson with McIlroy in the final duo.

Mickelson is absolutely putting a knife to his iron play right now. It's downright surgical what he's doing with his approach shots, no doubt feeding off the energy Bradley is giving throughout the day on every single hole.

He's fresh off a 7 & 6 dismantling of former world No. 1 Luke Donald and accomplished Englishman Lee Westwood, and he and Bradley made it look easy Saturday morning.

That performance ties two other American duos, Paul Azinger and Mark O'Meara being the most recent in 1991, for the all-time record for biggest margin of victory.

So why not ride the hot streak all the way to the end?

For starters, who else are you going to pair against McIlroy right now? Tiger Woods didn't have a good showing, and although his iron play was superb in the back nine of his Friday Four Ball match, he isn't making putts or hitting fairways well enough to garner a No. 1 matchup.

Bradley is a possibility, and so is FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker, who is teaming with Jim Furyk to continue his recent hot streak on the green.

For any of those men to have a chance to tee it up for the final time on the first hole at Medinah in this year's Ryder Cup, they'll have to have huge afternoons of Four Ball play. Woods especially, since he's expected to carry this Ryder Cup team in their effort to regain the Cup.

But Mickelson is hot, he's a crowd favorite right now and if the selections were due at this minute, I think Love III puts Mickelson as his closer against Ricky Fowler.

At the very least, we could see the lefty against Ian Poulter, who has played some of the best golf on the European side. That would be an intriguing matchup and would certainly test Phil's fortitude, since Poulter is a noted psych-out master.

But for the Americans to really make a statement to the golf world that they are back, and ready to start winning Ryder Cups with the same consistency that they did during the first 50 years of the event, they need their hot club in Mickelson to finish the job.

It's been a pleasure and a joy to watch Mickelson and Bradley, who quickly became the favorites of the crowed with their stellar play and energy at every gallery.

Mickelson noted in his post-match interview that it would be unlikely Love III sends the pairing back out for Saturday's Four Ball matches, hinting that the statistics show the U.S. needs a more even effort to beat the Europeans.

Historically and mathematically, the guys that have played five matches have not done as well in the singles, Mickelson said. We've got a lot of guys on this team that are playing some great golf who need to get out and play, as well. Don't be surprised if we end up not playing because we don't want to risk two points for one.

Certainly sounds like Phil is looking ahead to Sunday, where he knows he and Bradley are two of the hottest golfers on the planet. Could Mickelson be headed for that marquee final pairing on Sunday? Love III will announce it later Saturday, when the Four Ball matches are completed.

Mickelson, who has struggled so mightily on the final day of Ryder Cups past, has a chance to put those demons to sleep in this edition of the event. He should do so against the world's best, and bring home the title for his country in the process.