First at last

Tariq Engineer

For most professional athletes going 1-for-48 would be a disaster. Imagine an MLB hitter who was 1-for-his-last-48 at-bats, or an NFL QB who completed only one of 48 pass attempts. They would probably be benched, if not lose their jobs altogether. But for Phil Mickelson 1-for-48 represents the confirmation, and validation, of his entire professional career.See, Phil was the guy destined for success. He even won on the PGA Tour as an amateur in 1991. He was close to being the surest of sure things (that would be Tiger). But he couldn’t win one of the big ones. Regular PGA Tour events came in bunches (22 in all), but no major championship had yet engraved Phil’s name on its trophy. Time and again Phil came close, but he always ended up without the cigar.

Critics claimed Phil was too aggressive and didn’t use his head enough in order to win the big one(s), a fair criticism in this writer’s opinion. Phil, for his part, refused to change, claiming he would live or die by the sword (so to speak).

But change Phil did (some would say mature), and the result was there for all to see on Masters (and Easter) Sunday.

On a day when any of a half dozen golfers could have walked away with the green jacket, it looked like Phil was going to fall short once more. An early birdie was followed by three bogeys, leading to a 2-over-38 on the front. He had gone from two in front of the chasing pack, to one back of Ernie Els, who had eagled eight.

Then, with Phil staring down a 12-foot birdie putt on 12, Ernie eagled 13. The roars reverberated around Amen Corner, and suddenly Phil was three back. This columnist, for one, thought that was the dagger through Phil’s heart. Only no one apparently told Phil that.

He made that 12-footer on 12, then made three more birdies over the next four holes to catch Els. In the end it came down to an 18-footer for birdie on 18. The ball somehow caught the left lip and fell in. In that instant Phil Mickelson went from being 0-for-7 – and the best golfer never to win a major – to being 1-for-48 and one of the best golfers of his generation.

In as dramatic a back nine duel as you are ever likely to see, Phil Mickelson shot 31 to catch and pass Ernie Els, who shot a not-too-shabby 33 himself. In doing so Phil proved to everyone that he could win the big one, and win it in style.

Welcome to the promised land Phil. What took you so long?

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