Phil Mickelson: Will Another Chance at Greatness Pass By Again?

Ron FurlongAnalyst IIMay 5, 2010

12 Dec 1998: Phil Mickelson of the United States misses the putt on the 17th hole to loss to the International team during the 1998 Presidents Cup at the Royal Melbourne Golf Course in Melborne, Australia. The International team defeated the U.S.A. team. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wilson  /Allsport
Nick Wilson/Getty Images

Consider this: Phil Mickelson and Brett Favre have been professionals for about the same amount of time. Gray haired, grizzly old veteran Brett Favre. Brett has Phil by a year; 19 years as an NFL quarterback. Phil, 18 years as a PGA player.

18 years.

When he graduated from Arizona State in 1992, Mickelson was one of the most decorated amateur players in the history of golf. He captured three consecutive collegiate player of the year awards. In 1990, he became the first left-hander to win the U.S. Amateur title. He was only the second collegiate golfer to be named first team All-American all four years in school. In 1991, while still an amateur, he won the first PGA event he ever played in, the Northern Telecom Open.

So, when he turned pro in 1992, the future was his. Nothing could stop him from becoming the best player in golf. Surely he would become that, if not even one of the greats of all time. He would challenge Couples and Price and Faldo, the greats of the time.

But, hold on a second. 18 years have passed now. Yes, he has had a very nice career. Some would argue (and I'm sure they will) a successful career. Yet, not one time, ever, not once, has Phil Mickelson been the greatest player in the world. He has never held the title of the world's number one ranked golfer. Ever.

And, with that, he has never won a Player Of The Year honor. Never, in 18 years. There was always someone just a little bit better.

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Since Mickelson has become a professional, the winners of the Player Of The Year have been Fred Couples, Nick Price (2), Greg Norman, Tom Lehman, Mark O’Meara, Vijay Singh, Paddy Harrington and Tiger Woods (10). Yes, that list included Tom Lehman and Mark O’Meara. They have been able to win the award.

One must ask, I suppose, why not Phil? What has kept him from holding that title? Why, in almost two decades, has he not been ranked number one? Why has he not been the Player Of The Year?

Perhaps the answers lie in finding a connection between never having been number one, and finishing second in big tournaments. Consider that, although he has won four majors, he has finished second at majors six times, and finished third at majors another six times. That is 12 times coming really close, and then not winning.

Now, he's no Greg Norman, and I won't use the word that was often associated with Mr. Norman in big golf tournaments (I'll just say that it rhymes with poke). But it is a fact, nonetheless, that in 16 majors Phil has finished in the top three, and he holds only four of those 16 titles.

So, that brings us to this weekend. As the pros head to the TPC at Sawgrass in Northeast Florida, Phil Mickelson has a chance, the best chance he's ever had, to shake those demons once and for all and become the world's number one ranked player. It is so close he can taste it.

Kind of like a lot of those majors that he was so close to. So close he could taste them. So close he could have reached out and grabbed them.

Problem is, those demons don’t shake off so easy. Mickelson will turn 40 in a month. That window, although still open, will soon start to slowly close. If he doesn’t reach number one now, at this time more than any other, when the current number one player and Phil’s chief competition over the last 13 years, is as down as he’s ever likely to be.

Tiger Woods, despite what some want you to believe (and want to try and convince themselves as well), is not going to curl up into a fetal position and just go away. Tiger will be back. If Phil is ever going to wrestle that number one ranking away from Woods, this is the time.

Yet, as they get ready to tee off on Thursday, I wouldn’t hold your breath. We’ve been down this road before. We’ve all seen too many times the 2 and half foot putts race past the hole.

Mickelson will always be remembered as a great golfer, but never one of the greats. He will always be remembered as Tiger Woods’ chief competition. That really isn’t so bad.

But for a guy we all thought might be one of the best player ever, is it really good enough?

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