Monday, April 10, 2006

Lefty A True Master Now


It's one of sport's happy endings. Imagine a movie of Phil Mickelson's early career - a bit like Walk the Line, but featuring the 2004 US Masters instead of the Folsom Prison concert. The childhood chipping around in his back yard, the triumphs of a successful amateur career and early tour wins, then the plot twist as our hero repeatedly fails to win at the majors, the infamous 'choke' against Payne Stewart at the 1999 US Open being his nadir.

But the thrilling win at Augusta in 2004 would be the send-'em-home-smiling, feel-good denouement; then, as the shot of Mickelson - played, perhaps, by Jeff Daniels - clad in green jacket and surrounded by his wife and chilren fades, the stirring score swells and a caption reads: "Phil Mickelson went on to win many more majors and become one of the greatest golfers of all time."

Mickelson is there now; the troubling figure, who, prior to 2004, could not win the major titles his ability deserved is a distant memory. The man whose popularity (partially due to his buccaneering style, a risk-taking inclination that probably prevented him from winning a biggie much earlier) made people turn away dolefully when he blew another one, shaking their heads. "Philly, Philly, Philly."

This golfer is no more. Mickelson wears the green jacket today, but also the mantle of one of golf's superstars with ease. While yesterday's final round proved rather flat, with none of the other contenders able to keep their game together enough to challenge, Mickelson's consistency was admirable. His only glitch was a bogey at the last, and even then he had two putts to spare.

In an anecdote of the kind beloved of American sportswriters, it is said that, when Mickelson's wife and newborn baby were seriously ill due to complications during childbirth in 2003, his prayers included an undertaking to give up gambling (Mickelson was extremely fond of a high-stakes flutter) should their lives be spared. They were, and he did, and for the more imaginative commentator the inference was that he reigned in not only his extra-curricular punting, but also his high-risk golf style - thereby enabling him to at last win majors.

It's probably just a trite connection that would fit well in a script for the aforementioned movie, but whatever the cause, Mickelson cuts an impressively mature figure now. He has the length, he has the short game and he has the mental attitude. It would seem that his latest major victory will have many sequels.

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