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Mickelson earns a “major” upgrade

July 22nd, 2013 · 4 Comments

Phil Mickelson’s closing 66, with four birdies on the last six holes, propelled him to his fifth major, and to a major upgrading by the entire golf community.

Before the Open Mickelson was a great player and a member of the HOF. Even though he was tied with Ernie Els with four majors, he was the media’s choice for the second best player of the Woods’ era. With his win he is now undisputedly second best over the last 17 years, a position I expect him to retain as I don’t see putting troubled Els winning another major. But, far more importantly, Mickelson is now being called an ALL TIME GREAT!

So, who are the legitimate All Time Greats he’s now joined?

All Time Greats of the Modern Era (1958-now)
Jack Nicklaus
Tiger Woods
Gary Player
Tom Watson
Arnold Palmer
Phil Mickelson
Lee Trevino
Nick Faldo
Seve Ballesteros

All Time Greats of the Pre Modern Era (before 1958)
Harry Vardon
Gene Sarazen
Walter Hagen
Bobby Jones
Ben Hogan
Sam Snead
Byron Nelson

That is some pretty stout company, 16 players who won no less than five majors. In the Modern Era he is the sixth best of the nine all-time greats. On the list 16 he is probably about 12th based on his overall record, including those six seconds in the U.S. Open, not just his Ws in the majors.

At one time the media tried to make Tiger vs. Phil into debate when there was none. But if we now look at their stats in the majors from 2004 to now, there appears to be one.
Wins in the majors: Tiger 6, Phil 5
Seconds in the majors: Tiger 5, Phil 5
Thirds in the majors: Tiger2, Phil 2.

That is 13 to 12 in Tiger’s favor in top threes in the majors!

With his win, Mickelson has also accomplished the following:
He jumped from fifth to second in the World Golf Rankings
His major titles now span 10 seasons, a measure of longevity that’s only two years short of Woods’ record
He joined Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, and Lee Trevino as Modern Era players who have won 3 legs of the Career Grand Slam
Won a major in his 40s at age 43
Orchestrated a great bounceback win after his collapse at Merion
Won from behind in the final round (with a round that rivals Nicklaus
65 in 1986), something Woods has never done
Tied Seve Ballesteros with five majors, but he passed him based on his overall record in the majors
Passed Els and Ray Floyd, who have won four majors

When Darren Clarke won the British Open two years ago at age 42, you got the feeling that the portly fun loving Clarke had won his one and only major. With Mickelson, the feeling is entirely different.

At 43, the slim and trim Mickelson appears to be at his peak!! He said he putted the best of his life to win the Open, he is ultra-confident off the tee with his new super 3-wood, he’s got that great short game, and he says that his irons have always been the strong part of his game. Best of all, he is also employing Nicklaus’ secret weapon: course management.

So, with this confidence building victory, Mickelson’s got the total package and a heavy dose of career momentum! As a result, it is not hard to imagine him challenging Nicklaus for most majors in their 40s. Right now Nicklaus leads Mickelson 3-1, but I think Phil has at least a couple more in him.

Let’s do a little star gazing and imagine that Phil wins the U.S. Open at Pinehurst next year where he finished a shot back of Payne Stewart in 1999, and one other major. He would own the Career Grand Slam and seven majors. That would, in my opinion, make him the fourth best of the Modern Era, and a member of the All Time Top 10.

Given the current state of his game, the glittering resume that awaits him, and that he “loves golf and loves to compete,” I fully expect that we have not seen the last of Mickelson at the top of the leaderboards in golf’s biggest championships.

Tags: The Game · The Majors · Tiger vs. Jack


4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 BD // Jul 24, 2013 at 8:26 am

    I’m not sure why it makes sense to compare Phil and Tiger from 2004 on. That’s a classic example of the “selective endpoints.” However, I would point out that Tiger has almost twice as many wins as Phil (39 to 21) since 2004, even though that represents an peak period for Phil and a non-peak period for Tiger.

    That said, Phil is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats. To win 40+ events and 5 majors in the Tiger Woods Era is a huge accomplishment.

    As for your rankings of all-time greats, I’d put Tiger ahead of Jack (for reasons already thoroughly discussed) and Palmer ahead of Watson. Palmer undoubtedly left a much larger footprint on the game than Watson has (including 23 more wins!) Unless “greatness” is simply shorthand for “major wins,,” I can’t see how Watson rates a loftier perch in golf’s pantheon than Arnie.

    As far as the pre-1958 crowd goes, I don’t understand why you have Hogan ranked only 5th out of 7. Hogan is the third greatest golfer of all time in my book. People today still study Hogan in the hope of mastering the golf swing. You certainly can’t say that about Vardon, Sarazen, or Hagen. You can’t really even say that about Jack Nicklaus.

  • 2 Phil // Jul 24, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Hi BD, It is a common practice in sports analysis to pick specific chunks of time. In the case of Tiger and Phil, we all know that Tiger’s overall record dwarfs Phil’s. So, to have any kind of close comparison, we need to pick a time when they are somewhat comparable – and 2004 on is that time when Phil finally figured out how to win majors. As for Tiger vs. Jack, unless Tiger wins the PGA, that is all about settled – Jack being #1, of course. Watson and Palmer are very close – but Watson, with one more major and those 4 wins over Nicklaus in the majors to Palmer’s two gets the nod. The Pre Modern Era greats were not ranked in any particular order. Among that group I would rank Hogan second to Hagen. As for his swing, well, it is so overrated. He had to practice daily to maintain it, and he didn’t even have a major winning swing until age 34. Nicklaus’ swing is the best of all time by a mile – long, accurate, consistent, low maintenance, and the best under pressure.

  • 3 BD // Jul 27, 2013 at 11:18 am

    I’m curious why you seem to attach particular importance to whether Tiger wins the PGA.

    Not sure why Hogan’s needing to work to maintain his swing counts as a negative. I don’t think it diminishes his greatness at all. Hogan’s big negative for me is that all of his greatness is tied to his full-swing game. He was pretty average in terms of short game/putting.

    I get that you’re a big admirer of Jack’s swing, but Nicklaus himself considered Hogan the best ball-striker ever.

    Jack was tremendous, of course, but I just don’t sense that a lot of young players and teachers are using his game as a model for how golf should be played. For example, nobody tries to putt like Nicklaus. He left a huge mark on the record books, but I honestly wonder how much of a lasting impact he left on the game itself.

  • 4 Phil // Jul 27, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    The PGA is a must win because, without it, it will have been 70 months since he won the 08 Open when the Masters rolls around – time for more self doubt to grow. He’s got to do it or keep facing the questions. As for Hogan, all of that time maintaining his swing meant that he had less time for his short game and putting practice. Nicklaus saying that Hogan was the best ball striker is another example of him being too nice – deferring to others. He hit the ball higher, farther, and nearly as straight. Another of Nicklaus’ problems, as far as his legacy goes, is that his record in the majors overshadows everything else that he does. Phil is now learning Nicklaus style course management. His pre shot routine, his foot work, his sticking with one teacher and the fundamentals, his approach to the mental game, etc. If people would forget about 18 majors for a moment and look at what else he did, his overall contributions to the game would dwarf anyone else s. Finally, perhaps people should try to putt like he did, as Johnny Miller has suggested.

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