Time to Phil his Boots

I’m not a sports psychologist. So, I suppose, my opinion on this isn’t worth a damn. But here goes.

I would argue that Tiger’s enforced absence (the rehabilitation of the knee has begun – could the superman of world sport return quicker than we expected?) represents an opportunity for the rest of the field. An opportunity to win a devalued major? Possibly, but hey, I’d take a major if the rest of the field were playing with one leg, one arm and a blindfold. Bet a lot of us would.

A glance down the top tens at The Masters and The US Open throws up three unlikely names as the form players in this years majors (after Woods is removed from the equation): Miguel Angel Jiminez, Robert Karlsson and Brandt Snedeker.

Those three have posted two top ten finishes each in this years majors. They’ve shown consistency in the toughest arenas. Theoretically the next two majors are golden opportunities for that disparate triumvirate.

But my guess is they won’t be hogging the limelight in the run up to Birkdale this year. And this is where my cod psychology thesis comes in: step forward Philip Alfred Mickelson. The world number two is a whole lot of ranking points and a whole lot of majors behind Tiger.

But with no Tiger what can we expect from Phil? I would argue that this is Phil’s great opportunity, his last opportunity, to put a dent in Tiger’s armour.

Let’s imagine this summer: an inspired Mickleson takes his first Open and his second USPGA. He’s now won five majors. At the Ryder Cup, free from his nemesis, he becomes the talisman of a victorious US team that reignites the event as a contest.

Then Tiger returns, ring rusty and missing the home comforts that he has become used to. Mickleson, still revelling in the momentum of his Tiger free winning spree, is free of the inferiority complex that has damaged his challenge. He squares up to the Tiger. He beats him. It’s game on and Tiger no longer has everything his own way.

Suddenly Mickleson would be a real challenger to Tiger’s greatness. Tiger would have to raise his game. The two greatest golfers in the world, sparking off each other, feeding off each other’s exploits. Woods as golf’s Roger Federer. Mickelson, reinvigorated, as the Rafael Nadal of the links. Woods with the competition his genius deserves, Mickelson with the claim to greatness he craves, golf with the top level rivalry it longs for.

Can it happen? It could. Much was made in the run up to the US Open that Torrey Pines was Mickelson’s home course. It must, then, have hurt him to see Tiger “Hopalong” Woods claim the title, the glory and the status of Superman.

What better way to show that he’s got over it than to come out fighting and take his first Open. And that might be all it takes. The rest of this year will see Barack Obama and John McCain fight it out to gain momentum. Momentum is as crucial in politics (“the big mo” I believe they call it) as it in sport. For Phil an Open victory might be the spark that presidential hopefuls spend millions trying to find.

And, for Mickelson, 2008 is different. If he can start the momentum at Birkdale there is no Tiger shaped obstacle in the way. The tiny snowball can be a bloody great boulder by the time Tiger returns. Woods on the backfoot, Mickelson driving forward. It’s a mouthwatering prospect.

And if Phil misses the boat this time? Then that’s it I’m afraid. Maybe a couple more big wins here and there. Warm applause and rueful shakes of the head. Appreciation of what he’s achieved, sorrow over what he’s failed to do. And then someone else will come along and Mickelson won’t be number two anymore. And Tiger will pretty much have the history books to himself.

2 Responses to “Time to Phil his Boots”

  1. Ted Exley says:

    Yes, I agree and if Phil does not do it then the great Poulter might step in !!

  2. Stan Moravia says:

    Andy, I must say, you have a way with words and a great imagination 😆
    However, if everything happens the way you say – golf in 2009 will be even more interesting to watch. Anyway, great article !!!

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