Grand Slam: Why not Mickelson?

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Gary D’Amato
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
— Before the Masters even started last week, Phil Mickelson said he thought the Grand Slam, golf’s Holy Grail, was attainable. He wasn’t assessing his own chances, just answering a question about whether the feat was possible.

This year, it’s possible for just one golfer:

Masters champion Phil Mickelson.

Conventional wisdom for more than a decade has been that only Tiger Woods was capable of pulling off the calendar slam. He’s the only man in history to hold all four major titles simultaneously (when he won the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA in 2000 and the Masters in ’01).

But why not Phil?

His final-round, bogey-free 67 at Augusta National was as good as it gets. Perhaps only Johnny Miller’s 63 at the 1973 U.S. Open and Jack Nicklaus’ 65 at the 1986 Masters top it over the last 40 years.

Meanwhile, Woods’ swing is in shambles, and that’s the least of his problems. He tied for fourth at the Masters on determination alone.

The next major, the U.S. Open, is at Pebble Beach, where Woods won in 2000 by 15 shots. That performance, however, was his best ever, and he’s light-years from that place now.

Mickelson has a great track record at Pebble, too. He’s won the AT&T National Pro-Am three times and tied for eighth this year—his only top-10 until Sunday. He tied for 16th at Pebble in the 2000 U.S. Open.

The British Open is at St. Andrews, where Woods has won twice, by eight and five shots. But if Mickelson wins the first two majors, he’d be favored over Woods, even at the Old Course.

The major season concludes with the 92nd PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in August.

Mickelson has beaten Woods the last three times they have played in the same tournament. In September, he held off Woods to win the Tour Championship. Two months later, he won a Sunday showdown with Woods at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in China.

For the first time since Woods won the 1997 Masters, you could call Mickelson the better player right now and not get laughed at. Even when Lefty won the Masters in 2004 and ’06 and the PGA in ’05, there was no question about Woods’ superiority.

In fact, it might not be long until Mickelson is ranked No.1 in the world for the first time in his career. He leap-frogged Edgerton native Steve Stricker into the No. 2 spot this week and could overtake Woods at some point this year.

Here are a few other final impressions from the Masters:

Too often in recent years we’ve anointed the “next Tiger,” a list that started with Sergio Garcia and grew to include Ricky Barnes, Ryan Moore, Rory McIlroy and others. None of them has been even the next Phil or Vijay. But if 24-year-old Anthony Kim doesn’t win majors—note the plural—before he’s 30, I’ll eat a Titleist. Imagine how good he’ll be when he starts hitting his driver straight.

Everyone was drooling over Mickelson’s 6-iron from the pine straw on No. 13 Sunday. But if he doesn’t save par on Nos. 9, 10 and 11 after hooking drives into the trees, Lee Westwood is wearing the green jacket. Each was an amazing save, but the three consecutively? Come on, nobody does that.

If you’re a Stricker fan—and who isn’t?—there’s a tiny reason for concern. Since he won the Northern Trust Open in early February, Stricker has just one top-10 finish and his iron game has not been sharp. That’s odd because he’s driving the ball beautifully, so there’s nothing wrong with his swing. Maybe the new grooves rule has affected him more than others because he didn’t spin the ball a lot to begin with.

It’s starting to look as if Ernie Els will never win the Masters. He went to Augusta having won twice in a three-week span in March, but he could manage only a tie for 18th. After the third round, he said he felt snake-bitten at the tournament and compared himself to Tom Weiskopf, Johnny Miller and Greg Norman, great players who came close but never won the green jacket.

Last updated: 1:36 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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