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The European tour has a stronger foothold in the lucrative Asian market, but the U.S. tour still offers far more prize money and has more clout. It's the next TV deal that could dramatically change the economic landscape, however, as CBS and NBC reel from big losses in golf, estimated to be in the millions, and sinking ratings—from a 2.9 average weekend rating in '05 to 2.0 last year. The Internet may be a future source of broadcast revenue, but the TV deal, to be negotiated this year, seems certain to be less lucrative. The Tour has proved adept at changing with the times, though.
4 Is Phil Mickelson the new king of Augusta?
WITHOUT a doubt. Phil the Thrill has now won three of the last seven Masters. In that span Tiger Woods—the default favorite every year since 1997—has claimed only one green jacket. Lost in all the emotion of Mickelson's victory last year was that he turned in one of the greatest performances in Masters history. His four-round total of 272 has been bettered only three times, and none of those totals came on the longer, stronger, retrofitted Augusta National. Mickelson's bogeyless 67 on Sunday was among the most pressure-proof rounds of his career. It marked the first major championship that Mickelson won with Woods in contention, a continuation of the edge Phil has enjoyed over Tiger dating to Masters Sunday in 2009, when Lefty thoroughly outplayed his longtime rival in a freighted pairing.
With one more green jacket Mickelson (above) will match Woods's and Arnold Palmer's total of four, second only to Jack Nicklaus's six. The bad news for the competition is that Mickelson appears to grow more comfortable at Augusta National every year. "I'm in love with this place," he said last April. "It just brings out the best in me. I love Sunday at Augusta. Back in the '90s, it was the most nerve-racking day. Still is, but I've just come to love and cherish it."
5 Can Americans take back the LPGA Tour?
SORRY, UNCLE SAM, the world has you outnumbered. The Rolex World Rankings feature only 19 Americans among the top 100 players, six in the top 25. Nothing seems likely to change as talented, highly motivated players keep pouring out of Asia. It would be good enough for the U.S. market if at least the game's top player were an American. The decline in American men's dominance, for example, went largely unnoticed as long as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson ruled.
Among U.S. players, who can even carry women's golf the way Annika Sorenstam once did? Cristie Kerr is a steady winner who has been No. 1, but she's not quite a superstar. Neither is popular Paul Creamer. Alexis Thompson, a phenom who turns 16 in February, has the power game to be dominant if she develops a matching short game in the next, oh, 10 years. The best bet is Michelle Wie (above). She has just two victories, but she's only 21, attending Stanford and competing in her spare time. Once she focuses solely on golf, perhaps she can foment a modest American revolution.