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On to Oakmont
MICHAEL BAMBERGER
April 16, 2007
Phil Mickelson, the defending champion, failed to contend at Augusta, but only a fool would write off a guy with his talent and resilience
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April 16, 2007

On To Oakmont

Phil Mickelson, the defending champion, failed to contend at Augusta, but only a fool would write off a guy with his talent and resilience

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Amy Mickelson likes to say of her husband, "With Phil, it's all about the fun." With Phil, it's all about the numbers, too. Both Phils were on display last week at the Masters.

On Friday afternoon Numbers Phil was predicting that the winning score of this year's tournament would be over par. Fun Phil spent hours hanging out in the Augusta National clubhouse, often with his green jacket on, using "mister" in conversations with the older members, giving soul shakes to the locker-room attendants who stopped to greet him.

Numbers Phil was thinking, even after a front-nine 40 on Sunday, that if he could play home in 30, get himself in at four over par, he might have a chance of winning his third Masters and second in a row. Fun Phil chatted with the winner, Zach Johnson, all through the awards ceremony, like a schoolboy in an assembly.

On display at Augusta, for all to see, was the sum total of Phil: Fun Phil, Numbers Phil and the Phil who can handle losing about as well as winning. He's plenty experienced at both. At least this time he didn't have to put the winner's jacket on Tiger Woods, as he has had to do once before, in 2005.

Tiger, of course, has changed the way we look at other elite golfers. We expect them to be machines. The truth is, others-- Mickelson included--win only when all the pieces of their game fall into place. Phil, especially, can't do the machine thing.

When he came off the 18th green on Sunday, all Gary Playered out (black shoes, black socks, black slacks, black belt, black shirt, black hat, glistening teeth), he did a brief interview with Peter Kostis of CBS. The two men have known each other for years, but that didn't stop Kostis from asking a real question.

Kostis: "Your critics will say you still haven't recovered from Winged Foot. To that end, did that play any part at all, whatsoever?"

Mickelson: "Into what?"

Kostis: "Into your performance this week."

Mickelson: "I don't see the correlation."

Kostis's question was rooted in a modern fixation, trying to guess when a player is finished. Why not let the guy play out his career and see what happens? Mickelson is 36. He'll likely have 30 or 40 more majors in which he'll still be competitive. His game--to say nothing of his nature--doesn't lend itself to being in contention time and again, the way Tiger's does. For one thing Mickelson drives it too crookedly. For another, he's always so busy reinventing himself and the composition of his bag. His energy level comes and goes, as does his short putting. But you'd be a fool to bet against a player with such lavish talent and such big ideas. Soon after hitting a low, screaming drive on 15 at Augusta on Sunday, he was talking about how useful that shot will be at the British Open at Carnoustie in July.

What Phil really thinks of Tiger, we don't know, but he has figured out a graceful way to handle the public Tiger-versus-Phil discussion. In his pretournament press conference Mickelson repeated a line he used successfully with a writer from ESPN the Magazine: "If I have a great rest of my career, and I go out and win 20 more tournaments and seven more majors to get to 50 wins and 10 majors, which would be an awesome career, I still won't get to where he's at today. So I don't try to compare myself against him." You have to admit, that's really good.

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