Mickelson’s major titles pursuit is stirring

Phil Mickleson won the 2010 Masters.

Phil Mickleson won the 2010 Masters.

Welcome, students, to the Phil Mickelson Advanced School of Major Championship Golf. Phil is a generous guy, so there is no tuition.

Today’s subject is mathematics, and here’s a pop quiz: What active PGA Tour player is second in major championships behind Tiger Woods and his 14 professional majors?

Hint: He’s way behind.

Answer: It’s Phil, of course. He has won four majors and finds himself trailing only Woods among PGA Tour players (not counting the Champions Tour).

Think about it. Woods is so good, he is at least 10 majors ahead of every player on the PGA Tour.

Among current Tour players, Mickelson has sole possession of second place with four majors.

Three majors has been a sticking point for many superb players, past and present, including Julius Boros, Billy Casper, Jimmy Demaret, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Hale Irwin, Cary Middlecoff, Larry Nelson, Nick Price and Vijay Singh.

Can Mickelson capture additional majors and move into Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo territory (six majors apiece)? Can he open the Open door and take the U.S. Open or British Open? These are the two majors he has not won, although he has five seconds in the U.S. Open.

I am fascinated by this pursuit.

The world may be focused on Mickelson’s attempt to supplant Woods as the world’s No. 1 golfer, but I don’t care in the least. What I really care about is Phil’s quest to pad his legacy by winning more majors.

The first British Open was played in 1860, exactly 150 years ago. In that century and a half, only 18 golfers have claimed more majors than Mickelson.

Pop quiz No. 2: How many golfers have won 10 or more majors?

Hint: It’s not many.

Answer: Jack Nicklaus, Woods and Walter Hagen are the only three in double figures. Ben Hogan and Gary Player have nine apiece.

I feel privileged to have watched so many great golfers. When the U.S. Open begins June 17 at Pebble Beach Golf Links, I will eagerly follow Mickelson, who has the potential to become one of the top 10 golfers of all time.

If major professional victories can be regarded as a legitimate yardstick, here are the top 10 players in the history of golf (11 actually, including ties):

  • Jack Nicklaus (18)
  • Tiger Woods (14)
  • Walter Hagen (11)
  • Ben Hogan, Gary Player (9)
  • Tom Watson (8)
  • Bobby Jones (amateur), Arnold Palmer, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Harry Vardon (7)

And here are the other players ahead of Mickelson:

  • Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo (6)
  • Seve Ballesteros, James Braid, Byron Nelson, J.H. Taylor, Peter Thompson (5)

At this year’s U.S. Open, Mickelson’s mission is to go to school on his past mistakes and move one notch closer to the all-time top 10.

OK, class, enough of this complex math. Tomorrow we’ll tackle an easier subject: sewing (just kidding).

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