Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's Mickelson's time to shine at Oakland Hills

Its best player remains sidelined, that is true. But golf’s best source of storylines? He remains healthy, swinging, and very much a part of the game.

Phil Mickelson.

It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: What would those of us who like to write about this game do without the inimitable left-hander? We’d have to invent someone just like him, that’s what.

He’s the guy who won a Masters with two drivers in the bag and tried to win a U.S. Open without even one.

He’s the guy who once insisted in a lengthy pre-tournament interview that he would never change his style just to win a major, then when he won a major he gushed at how ecstatic he was that he had changed his style.

He’s the guy who employs a former NASA physicist to tell him the green speeds are fast, while other players are left to putt them in practice rounds to discover they are fast.

He’s the guy who once warmed up for the final round of a major championship by playing 18 holes at a nearby course.

He’s the guy who has been known to toss a football or drag out the ball and glove to pitch a few before heading into a round of golf.

He’s the guy who can carry four or five wedges and hit each of them with uncanny precision, while at the same time be clueless as to how to hit a 6-iron links shot beneath the wind from 135 yards.

But most of all, he’s the guy who remains the most fascinating golfer in the world not named Tiger Woods, as much for his personality as his talent. He is an enigma, pure and simple, and the sport would be so much less colorful without him, an assessment that takes us onto the doorstep of the 90th PGA Championship.

Never has the moment been more made for Mickelson to step up and shine. Woods, of course, is out for the season. But there’s another reality that is very much a part of the picture here: The obligatory trip to the British Open is over and done with.

No surprise, but Mickelson’s venture into the world of links golf was met with the usual indifferent result. He opened with a 79, settled for a share of 19th, and in 16 tries at the game’s grandest championship, Mickelson has but one top 10. Even the NASA physicist who looks like he’s headed on a safari couldn’t get Mickelson around Birkdale with much success.