Monday, November 09, 2009

Has it become Phil's show, not Tiger's?

Has Phil Mickelson supplanted Tiger Woods as the best golfer in the world?

I'm not ready to go that far.

But after the way Mickelson won The Tour Championship and how he left Tiger in his dust in Shanghai over the weekend, there's no question Lefty is right there.

This is the Mickelson we've seen in spurts, the Mickelson brimming with confidence and swagger. He stands over putts now expecting to make them, not hoping to make them and, if you've ever played golf, you know the difference is enormous.

When Dave Stockton tweaked Mickelson's putting stroke earlier in the fall, it was like polishing a diamond. He put Mickelson back where he was comfortable, the hole suddenly looked twice as big and the game became, relatively speaking, easier.

The only downside to Mickelson's resurgence is the timing. He's done now for the year, just as he's hit his peak. Usually, Phil has been long gone by this time of the year, ready for vacation. Now he probably wishes he had another few tournaments to play.

There may be a little rust when he comes back next year but I'm thinking this latest run has reinvigorated him. He posed with Tiger after the Tour Championship, having won that event, and his win in the HSBC event over the weekend was made more noteworthy by the way Tiger went backward on Sunday.

The question isn't whether Phil can beat Tiger right now.

It may be whether Tiger has lost something. He was a mess early in the final round, lipping out putts, hitting a shot in the water, chopping his way out of contention on a Sunday stacked with stars.

Maybe his edge has dulled just a little. It's easy to make too much of the fact that Tiger didn't win a major this year. That's going to happen from time to time but because everything he does is overanalyzed, it raised questions.

Where does Tiger go from here? My guess is he keeps doing what he's been doing, grinding to make himself better, sorting out the little things that kept him from winning this year. There will be calls for him to ditch Hank Haney but that seems unlikely.

He didn't play well on Sunday and it was striking because it so rarely happens. Throw in the fact he lost to Heath Slocum in a playoff event and didn't win at East Lake and eyebrows go up.

Tiger is playing again this week in Australia and everybody will be interested to see how that goes.

Maybe not everyone. It may not matter to Mickelson.