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Sports Commentary 7/22/13

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(Stuart Franklin/Getty Images Sport)

(Stuart Franklin/Getty Images Sport)

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THE DECADE OF PHIL

Tiger Woods is still the number one golfer in the world.  He’s won four tournaments this year and he’s been in contention going to the final round of the three majors.  Unfortunately the final round of major championships have not been friendly to Tiger and his number one ranking is sullied a bit by his recent lack of credentials in the big ones.  It’s been more than five years since he won a major championship, his last the 2008 U.S. Open, practically handed to him by an adoring Rocco Mediate in a playoff, which Tiger played on a broken leg, in itself one of the great achievments in golf history.  Since then, however, Tiger has played in 17 majors while sitting out four with injuries.  He’s finished in the top six in nine of those tournaments, but, with an average final round score of 73 in the last six, he’s like the home run hitter who suddenly has only warning track power.  Comes close, can’t quite get it out of the park.  His 2008 U.S. Open championship was his 14th major, leaving him just four shy of Jack Nicklaus’ all time record.  Tiger was just 32 and entering his prime.  Nicklaus’ record was a foregone conclusion, the question was how old Tiger would be when he reached 20 majors.  Since then time has stood still.  Tiger may still be number one, but for a golfer who plans his entire year around the majors, it’s not good enough.  He frequently plays the minimum number of PGA Tour events to maintain his Tour status while working in tournaments that come with appearance fees and weeks of practice ahead of the majors on courses that give him the same conditions as the upcoming major.  The majors alone are his personal measure of success.  By that standard the last decade has belonged to Mickelson.  Tiger has won six majors in the last decade, Mickelson only five, but Phil has won two since Tiger claimed his last one, one of only two golfers with mulitple major victories over that stretch.  A month ago Phil appeared to have bottomed out, with his sixth runner up finish at the U.S. Open while the pundits were heralding it as possibly his last chance to claim the one major that still eludes him.  A month later, regardless of Tiger’s ranking, Mickelson has climbed all the way back to the top of the golf world with back to back wins on the links courses that once drove him so mad while showing that, at age 43, he’s got more than enough game left in him to give that U.S. Open another crack or two.  Yesterday’s win put him some of the rarest company in golf, one of only a half dozen players to win three of the four grand slam events.  With his six seconds in the one that got away, so far, he stands above most of them.  His final round in winning the Open Championship was one for the ages, a five under 66 to come from five strokes back and easily cruise to victory.  Tiger has never come from behind on the final day of a major to win. Yesterday’s latest failure, opening the day just two shots off the lead, added to that record of futility.  Phil, meanwhile, has found a way to spin final round magic, as anyone who remembers a certain six iron shot off the pine straw at 13 at Augusta will recall.  Nicklaus did it seven times.  The last decade has belonged to Phil, who, with his fan friendly demeanor and family first attitude, has also vaulted past Tiger with the galleries, and don’t think Tiger hasn’t noticed, adding to his frustration.  If he doesn’t win the PGA Championship in three weeks his string of major-less years will reach six and he’ll be 38 when he gets his next shot.  Even the pandering media is losing it’s patience.  Time is running out for Tiger Woods to find his home run swing again.  With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

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