Phil Mickelson: Why Golf Needs a Resurgent Lefty

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Phil Mickelson: Why Golf Needs a Resurgent Lefty
USA TODAY Sports

Take that, Tiger Woods.

Less than a week after Woods won his first PGA event of the year, Phil Mickelson decided to show the golf world that he also has some magic left in his game.

He fired an opening-round 60 in the Waste Management Phoenix Open that gave him a four-shot lead over his nearest competitors.

If his long birdie putt on the final hole of the round had not horseshoed out, Mickelson would have shot only the sixth round of 59 in PGA tour history.

Lefty was on fire with his putter, fueling his 11-under-par round. According to ESPN.com's Justin Ray's tweet, Mickelson made 18-of-20 putts from 25 feet or less:

 

Whether Mickelson can sustain his putting and continue to string eye-catching rounds together has yet to be determined, but when Mickelson is at the top of his game, it is great for golf.

As much as any sport, golf is dependent on its big-name players competing with each other when they are at the top of their game.

There has never been a modern-day rivalry in golf that compares with the Jack Nicklaus-Arnold Palmer battles of the 1960s.

When those two were at their peak, they were credited with making golf's major tournaments can't-miss events.

Mickelson and Woods certainly have a rivalry, but it seems they have rarely been able to sustain their excellence at the same time.

Woods has had the better of the majority of their matchups; he is second to Nicklaus in major victories and second to Sam Snead in all-time PGA tour victories. That makes it hard for any of his peers to compete with him.

But Mickelson has shown that he has been up to the challenge more than any of Woods' rivals.

Neither Mickelson nor Woods is currently at the top of the rankings. That honor belongs to Rory McIlroy, who has proven over the last two years that he is a worthy champion.

Nothing would be better for the game of golf than to have those three players headline and perform at their best in all of this year's major tournaments.

It seems likely that McIlroy will be able to give it a go, and Woods seems more equipped to accomplish that feat than he has in recent years.

Could Mickelson's Phoenix Open first round be an indication that he is ready to put his stamp on the battle as well?

Perhaps. Mickelson needs to sustain excellence for not just a round or a tournament. He needs to show that he can continue to play sensational golf for an extended period of time.

Mickelson is not that far away from being able to stake his claim. He had a solid 2012 season, finishing eighth in earnings with more than $4.2 million, and fifth in FedEx points. Mickelson finished in the top 10 in seven of the 22 events he played last year and was seventh with 3.9 birdies per round.

How Mickelson reacts to his remarkable round may be the key to his performance throughout the 2013 golf season.

Nobody expects him to duplicate his score of 60 or to come close to matching his magical run with the putter. But he should have maximum confidence as he returns to TPC Scottsdale for the rest of the tournament.

If he blows up and fires a couple of rounds in the mid-70s, Mickelson's opening round will be a fluke.

But if he can continue to put impressive rounds together and win the tournament, it will be great for golf and signal that three of the game's superstars may be ready for a huge year.

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