Monday Scramble: Can Phil surpass Tiger?
Welcome to the Monday Scramble. Before we get into this week’s column, do us a favor and eat (or throw into an Icelandic volcano) any tomatoes within a 100-foot radius. We really like the white J. Lindeberg polo we have on. Thanks.
[Are we good? OK...]
Here we go: Phil Mickelson will end his career with more major championships than Tiger Woods.
Go ahead – hoot, holler and throw broccoli at us. (We don’t care, because broccoli doesn’t stain!)
While we understand saying something like that is a trillon-times less of a no-brainer than gathering all the people in your office to pitch in and buy this Green Jacket that has mysteriously appeared on a sports auction Web site (no joke), we also know that weirder things have happened.
Final score? Jack Nicklaus 18, Phil Mickelson 16, Tiger Woods 15.
Who? What? Where? When? Wow! Huh?
[Please note: We vow that no ill will is being sent toward Tiger Woods in this hypothesis, only unnecessary motivation.]
• In order for this prediction to have any legs, we need Lefty to win at least three majors this year and Tiger to come up empty, missing at least two major cuts. And we don’t think that’s asking for too much, even if no year in major championship golf has set up better for someone than this year does for Tiger. It’s crucial that Phil uses his confidence from the Masters to get off to a good start at Pebble Beach, and win in a runaway somehwhat close to Woods’s 12-shot victory in 2000, making Woods question if the old Tiger is gone forever. Mickelson has gone on to finish second in the U.S. Open the last two times after he won the Masters; We bet you a hospitality tent at next year’s U.S. Open that luck changes this year, creating a burst of momentum that Lefty has never felt and a record-pace for racking up majors.
• As you know, Woods currently stands at 14 majors, Mickelson 4 – and when we actually see those numbers on paper it starts to make us wonder if we should check ourselves into golf writing therapy. However, that also means Mickelson only has to win two majors per year for the next five years to get to make up the difference. Only? Sure, that sounds a little ridiculous, but we’re basing a lot of this prediction on the guess that Woods goes on a career slump for the next five years, and then retires due to either bad knees, or bad press. As far as we know, Lefty has all the original cartilage in his knees, and has only broken club shafts, not bones.
• The age difference is a big factor, with Mickelson turning 40 this year and Woods only at 34. And Jack Nicklaus only won three majors after his 40th birthday, two when he was 40 and his final major at 46 at the 1986 Masters. Considering Lefty’s play of late, however, we don’t see him slowing down for at least five more years, and eventually beating Nicklaus’ record as oldest major champion with a victory at Augusta National – or, “Phil’s Playground” – at 50. And while we’re at it, let’s also throw out that it will be his seventh green jacket, one more than Nicklaus’ current record of six. If we’ve learned anything from Tom Watson and Fred Couples, it’s that we need to start respecting our elders more and more, especially ones that are headed to the Hall of Fame. Because they are only getting younger.
• In order for this to happen, we also think we’re going to have to see a LeftySlam sometime over the next 2-3 years, a period during which Mickelson will win his only British Open, a tournament a lot of people don’t think he will ever win. But after winning the U.S. Open this year, he’ll bring greater focus to the event in hopes of finishing off the career slam. In 2004, after winning the Masters and finishing runner-up at the U.S. Open, Mickelson finished third at Royal Troon, his best finish in that event. Dude just needs to get on a little run, that’s all.
• When will Tiger win his 15th and final major? The major after Mickelson wins four in a row. (Woods will also win the first Olympic gold medal, because that’s just what he does.)
• And finally, let’s take a look back at the history books for a second, and bring up a point we touched on briefly last Sunday.
Know this: Phil Mickelson is the most decorated junior (arguably) and college golfer (definitely) of all time for two reasons: He played as long as he could, and won almost everything he could.
“Phil might be the most dominant junior golfer that every played, because he played so long,” Steven Hamblin, executive director of the AJGA, told us a few years ago. “I mean he played even throughout his 18th year. He had won back-to-back (AJGA) players of the year at 16 and 17 and then he came back to play junior golf. And he was asked, gosh Phil, you’ve won everything in junior golf, why are you coming back to play more junior golf in your 18th year and he said, “Well it’s my last year to be a junior and I’m having fun and I’ve got my friends, and you know, the next four years are going to be dedicated to amateur and college golf, but I’m never going to be a junior again.’ It was a pretty refreshing attitude, he played because it was fun, he played because that’s where his friends were, and that’s how he obviously became our only three-time player of the year.”
Lefty won a record three American Junior Golf Association Player of the Year awards, and a record three NCAA individual championships. Of course, we can’t forget that Tiger Woods won six straight USGA championships (three U.S. Junior and then three U.S. Amateurs), arguably the greatest streak in golf history.
But our main point is that Mickelson has always stuck around longer; Tiger has always moved on much more quickly, playing in more amateur and professional events as a junior, and leaving Stanford to turn professional after his sophomore year.
So, by our calculations, when Lefty is winning his 16th and final major as a 50-year-old down Magnolia Lane, Woods will have long moved on to bigger and better things as the No. 1 ranked player in a new sport called Golfsketball.
Does that seem silly?