We convened a panel of SI golf experts—senior writers Michael Bamberger, Damon Hack, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle, plus special contributor John Garrity—and a PGA Tour pro (who participated on the condition of anonymity) to answer those and other questions
The Phil Factor
Van Sickle: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been the best players in the game for a long time. Was Phil's win at the Masters a tipping point in their battle?
Hack: Look at the last eight months. The writing has been on the wall. Y.E. Yang beat Tiger at the PGA, Phil beat Tiger at the Tour Championship and in China. Phil has been the best player in the world, while Tiger has had a scandal that has become part of his biography. Until Tiger wins another major, which he'll do eventually, Phil is the guy.
Shipnuck: Since 2004 Phil leads Tiger in Masters wins 3--1. In all the majors Tiger is up 6--4. Phil has closed the gap. Phil's long game is more solid than Tiger's now, and their short games are a wash. Phil is as close to Tiger as he's ever been from a competitive standpoint. Factor in the outside emotional issues, and maybe Phil is ahead of Tiger.
Bamberger: There's always been so much rooting interest for Phil, and now there's more than ever. The Phil-Tiger divide for fans had always been close in numbers, but now it's overwhelmingly in Phil's favor.
Anonymous Pro: Phil has been portrayed as the next Arnold Palmer because of how he plays to the fans, and you know what, he probably is. Phil says some eccentric things, but he's endeared himself to the public even more, and I'm not including his family's health issues. I mean, could you write a better story than Phil goes to Augusta, Amy comes out for the first time all year, and he wins the Masters? Even you guys couldn't mess that up.
Garrity: I don't think Phil's situation has changed much, really. Early in the season we made a big thing out of Tiger being gone and predicted that Phil would step up, and then we criticized him when he wasn't able to do it. Now that he has, it's the same uneven but spectacular trajectory Phil has always had.
Shipnuck: Tiger wasn't even in sight in Phil's first three major victories. This time Tiger was on the board and Phil's performance was commanding. There was always a question about whether hearing Tiger's footsteps made a difference, and clearly it didn't. Chalk up another big mental hurdle that Phil cleared.