THE ONLY thingmore exciting than watching Tiger Woods win a tournament is watching PhilMickelson blow one. Sunday's final round of the Bridgestone Invitational wasvintage Lefty, which is to say, it was so bad it was good. Emerging from adogfight with a handful of world-class players, Mickelson stepped to the 15thtee at Firestone Country Club in Akron leading by a stroke. There was much atstake; Mickelson had a chance to win his first World Golf Championship andgenerate some much-needed momentum heading into this week's PGA Championship,the season's last chance at major-championship glory for a player who hasn'tsniffed a major in the two-plus years since his meltdown in the U.S. Open atWinged Foot. In a larger sense, Mickelson was fighting to remain relevant.
This is an article from the Aug. 11, 2008 issue
Since Woods wenton the disabled list in June, this season has lacked definition.Someone—anyone—needs to emerge as the game's keynote player, and the rest ofthis season is Mickelson's best-ever chance to burnish a surprisinglyincomplete résumé: He has never won a money title, the Vardon Trophy for lowscoring average or player of the year. The Bridgestone was the beginning of afrenetic eight-week stretch, but instead of positioning himself as the man tobeat, Mickelson reminded us that he so often beats himself.
Over those finalfour holes at Firestone he limped home with three excruciating bogeys and a parthat was just as dispiriting, as it came on the eminently birdieable par-5 16thhole. Bobby Jones, a wordsmith as well as a champion, once conjured afelicitous phrase to describe the tournament golfer: "dogged victim ofinexorable fate." With every errant shot, Mickelson's doom seemedinevitable, and his inability to right himself was riveting.
Phil's follyopened the door for his longtime antagonist, Vijay Singh, who provided his owngrim must-see TV as he battled a case of the yips throughout the final round.Singh's victory—and his sanity—was imperiled until his 3 1/2-footer on the 72ndhole wiggled into the cup, leaving him a stroke ahead of Stuart Appleby and LeeWestwood.
AfterwardMickelson, the man who put "I am such an idiot" into the golf lexicon,couldn't stop raving about his round. "I played great," he said, hisface frozen into that familiar smile. "I felt as if I should have shot 63or 64. I had countless birdie opportunities from six to 15 feet, and then Imake three bogeys on the last four holes to turn a 64 into 70. So I feel as ifI'm playing well, I simply need to get that final piece of scoring down."And Amy Winehouse simply needs to get that final piece of sobriety down.
There has longbeen a debate as to who is the second-best player of the Woods epoch, whichbegan in August 1996. Since then Singh and Mickelson have each won threemajors, while Vijay has 29 victories (of 33 total) and Phil has 23 (of 34).This Bridgestone may have to be part of the tiebreaker.
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After the U.S. lost five of the last six Ryder Cups,captain Paul Azinger concocted a new selection system, but will it come back tobite him? Azinger's system is pegged to money earned, a more completereflection of a player's body of work than the old matrix, which only awardedpoints for top 10 finishes, disproportionately rewarding a few hot weeks. ButAzinger now faces the possibility that a fluky PGA Championship winner couldbum-rush his way onto the squad. The majors confer double points, and at theend of the PGA, the players second through ninth in the standings areautomatically on the team. (No. 1 Tiger Woods is out.) The current No. 9, SteveStricker, has 2,603.171 points. The winner of the PGA will earn 2,520 (based onthe 2007 purse), meaning that players as far down as No. 120 Shawn Micheel(257.018) have a shot. (Nos. 121 through 146 are alive mathematically but notin the field.) Let the second-guessing begin.