How Phil Mickelson Tamed the Great Tiger

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How Phil Mickelson Tamed the Great Tiger
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Phil Mickelson enjoyed a warm embrace with his cancer-survived wife Amy following his birdie on the 18th hole at Augusta National—and with that, the deal was done.

The lengthy week culminated in Lefty's emotional reaction to winning his third green jacket. For years, Tiger Woods towered over his opponents as the world's No. 1 golfer, but this reign was soon to be broken. Phil Mickelson, with his play at the Masters, tamed the Tiger and solidified himself as the best golfer in the world. It doesn't hurt being America's favorite golfer.

Everyone is aware of how Woods spent his offseason. Coming off one of the biggest athlete-involved affairs in the history of sports, Tiger made his first appearance of 2010 at the Masters. At the tournament, he received a warm ovation from a mostly respectful gallery at Augusta National. But Tiger's fall as a golfer began before he was publicly disgraced and humiliated.

Though he was the 2009 FedEx Cup Champion and AP Golfer of the Year, it was apparent that he was no longer playing his best golf and it was wearing on him. While he struggled, his frustrations mounted and the unique celebrations we had become accustmed to virtually disappeared.

He played poorly at the British Open in Scotland during blustry conditions, missing only his second cut ever at a major. He went winless in the four major tournaments, including the missed cut at The Open. In the absence of winning, we saw a Tiger that appeared more "out of it", not giving a full, valiant effort—and absent of thrilling comebacks in the majors.

While Tiger's issues escalated, the Mickelson family dealt with a different sort of dilemma.

Amy, Phil's college sweetheart, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was not a burden to Phil at all, aside from the possible stress and constant worry he had to deal with. He was playing flat, emotionless golf to start the year, but picked up his play at the Masters.

After a Saturday roar that put Phil back at the top portion of the leaderboard, Lefty was primed for the most emotional victory of his career. A birdie on the 72nd green capped a victory that felt like something more than your everyday golfing triumph, holding off Lee Westwood and the fast-closing Anthony Kim.

On the Tour, Mickelson slowly climbed the ladder, gaining on Woods with victories at the Northern Trust Open, the CA Championship, and The Tour Championship to cap his season.

He finished even stronger, winning the highly-covered Presidents Cup and the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, though both were unofficial events. Mick was the victor in each of his three final tournaments, finishing 2009 with a bang.

Mickelson not only emerged as the game's top golfer, but surpassed Woods as the nation's favorite player. While there are undoubtedly many who root for the 14-time major winner, his scandal tarnished his image in the eyes of many.

As often as you stumble upon the serendipity of a four-leaf clover will you find someone that does not like Phil as a golfer or as a person.

Phil Mickelson is the ultimate gentleman, always composed and polite with the media and fans. A family man with two daughters of his own, Phil signed autographs while playing at the Master's. He is the man you want marrying your daughter and has the looks of an America's golden boy. No cursing loud enough for the TV microphones to pick up, no throwing of his clubs, no outrageous fits or celebrations. A smile here, a chuckle there.

Many consider him the nicest and most likeable player of his era.

As recent as 2004, critics claimed that Phil couldn't win the big one. He ended that notion with a dramatic victory at the Masters that very same year. He followed that up with two more major victories before garnering his fourth this year at the Masters.

The Master's showed how dominant Phil can be. His performance in the third-round was pressure-packed brilliance. Phil mastered the pines, waters, and Amen Corner—nearly missing on three consecutive eagles on 13, 14, and 15, going -5 on the tri-fecta of holes.

For Tiger, his first couple of days back in golf were different.

We saw a different player, one interacting with fans and containing his emotions. But after shouting a profanity during the middle of Saturday's round, he was back to the old metric—showing his emotions much more vividly and saying in a post-tournament interview that anything less than a victory is a failure.

After the Master's, Woods made his second appearance at the Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte. He shot a +2 on Thursday to drop to the lower quartile of the standings. On Saturday, he bogeyed eight holes.

From May 6-9, Woods was scheduled for THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass, considered the "Fifth Major". 'Mediocre' would be the best word to describe his play, shooting 70-71-70. During Round Four, he withdrew from the event because of a bulging disk in his neck. Results from an MRI showed that he has an inflamed facet joint in his neck.

2010 has been a tumultuous year for Woods, on and off the golf course. For now, he will be nursing a neck injury and probably will not appear until the U.S. Open in June.

Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, has his groove back. Having established himself as the second-best player of the era, taking second at Quail Hollow and finishing strong at THE PLAYERS (taking 17th) thanks to a third round 66. Saturday has been his day of strength, shooting over par only once in ten tournaments. Lefty may be the favorite going into the U.S. Open.

Mickelson's style is aggressive and he refuses to back down on any shot, despite occasional pleas from his caddie Jim Mackay. If Mickelson thinks he can drive the Titleist past the pond, bunker, lake, or lagoon—there's no stopping him, folks. T

hough he may have this aggressive mentality, Phil always maintains composure regardless of the outcome, never going over the top. An adrenaline-induced fist pump satisfies his fans.

For years, Tiger stood alone at the top of the golfing world. His status had grown to immortality, something no other athlete had reached since Michael Jordan. Few others have ever received this status, and Woods is one of the all-time greatest athletes. Nothing will ever change that.

But 2010 brought the takeover of Tiger, courtesy of a sweet-swinging and charming lefty by the name of Philip Alfred Mickelson. After a tumultuous year, he won the ultimate award having his healthy wife meet him on the 72nd hole with open arms.

The heart-warming hug between college sweethearts captured more than Phil's fourth major title. The world watched as the cameras showed Phil Mickelson, possibly, unknowingly, having at long last, tamed the Tiger.

 

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