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The Big Five -- The case for Phil Mickelson


Today, we continue with one of our regular features here at The Life of Kings: The Big Five. Every few days, we pick a subject, sometimes at random, and either rank something, or throw out an argument and use five points to make our case. With everyone from your bookie to your grandmother -- which, for some of you, may be one and the same -- picking Tiger Woods to win the Masters this year, allow me to make the case for why you should, instead, pull for Phil Mickelson.

1. The Elvis Factor: A few years ago in the pages of The Sun, I made the argument that Mickelson fans were the Elvis fans of the golfing world while Tiger Woods fans were more likely to call themselves Beatles people. I still think it holds up. Of course the Beatles are cooler. They represent the pinnacle of artistic achievement. Tiger has John's arrogance and imagination, Paul's genius and flair, George's courage when it comes to risk-taking and like Ringo, he's a goofy-looking guy who married a babe in Elin. (Although to be fair, Phil married out of his league too.) But no matter how much you respect the Beatles, for some of us, there is just something about Elvis. He's got charm and charisma, and even if some folks think it's phony, it always feels genuine to the people he looks in the eye and connects with. So what if he's a little out of shape? He just wants to entertain. And he always does. Sometimes that means Heartbreak Hotel on the back nine. And sometimes it's Good Rocking Tonight. Either way, you get your money's worth.

2. He's an Equipment Mad Scientist: Phil will once again carry two drivers in his bag this year at Augusta, a tactic that helped win his second Masters title in 2006. In the last few weeks, he's tried about three different putters. You know why that's cool? Because every hacker playing his own personal goat track around the country knows what it feels like to hit their buddy's driver flush or bomb in a long one with a borrowed putter and wonder, "Could this be the club I've been looking for my whole life?" The entire equipment industry survives because of people like Mickelson, tinkering madmen (and women) who are always thinking in the back of their minds, "My swing is pretty good. I just need to find the right club to go with it." This kind of reasoning is completely foolish, of course, but I can relate to it. In my basement, and in the trunk of my car, there are the dusty carcasses of old clubs I cursed out one too many times, then banished, swearing I would never let them back into the light to shank another day. Eventually, I'll dig them out and convince myself, "You know, I used to hit this pretty good." And after two or three beers, I will.

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3. His caddy will, mostly likely, not threaten to kill anyone. If there is one thing that truly keeps me from embracing Tiger Woods, it's his meathead caddy Steve Williams. Obviously, Williams is very good at his job. Hiccup during Woods backswing and Williams will dunk your head in a pond and possibly try to drown you, then laugh as he tosses you on the bank, gasping for air, giving you a quick cleat to the groin before he jogs up the fairway to catch up with Woods. (This may be a slight exaggeration. For a different opinion, check out ESPN.com's Wayne Drehs profile of Williams here.) In my eyes, Stevie comes off as nothing but a country club thug. Instead, give me the cool, quiet calm of Jim "Bones" McKay. Sometimes, Mickelson will convince himself that he can do something stupid (but awesome) such as skip a ball -- using a three iron -- off pine straw, across a pond, and onto the green 160 yards away. Only Bones can talk him out of this. I cannot put into words how difficult that is to do with Phil. Bones could probably talk George W. Bush out of invading Iran. Considering that Mickelson is friends with George H.W. Bush, perhaps this can be arranged.

4. Because sometimes, his gambling pays off: In 2000, Mickleson believed the Ravens could win it all even before you did. You may already know the story, but in case you don't, it's worth repeating. Mickelson laid down $20,000 on the Ravens to win the Super Bowl at the beginning of the season. He liked Billick. He liked the defense. When they won it all, he took Vegas for $440,000, and had the casino stuff all the money is pillow cases for him to take on the plane. This is what makes Mickelson awesome. He literally sees himself as Sky Masterson from Guys and Dolls. If he saw two moths in the locker room, he'd bet $1,000 on which one was going to eat a hole in John Daly's shirt first. On the course, the same is true. In 2004, when he won his first major, he started his back-nine charge by firing at the pin on Hole No. 12. Nobody fires at the Sunday pin on that hole. It's a sucker placement. Mickelson did. And he drained the birdie putt. The Amen Corner crowd went bonkers. Golf is supposed to be exciting like that. Sometimes, damn the percentages, you've got to go for it. If for no other reason than to keep us from dying of boredom.

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5. Tiger needs a rival, because worshiping him like he is a deity makes me want to ralph in the azaleas: You know who is insufferable? The golf fan who doesn't know Carmilo Villegas from Carmelo Anthony, but he can't wait to tell you how awesome Tiger Woods is. People who are really into Tiger Woods but don't follow golf are like people who are really into U2, but don't listen to much music. I don't blame U2, because I respect them, and celebrate a majority of their catalog. I just can't stand it when their fans act like U2 discovered rock music. Jack Nicklaus was an incredible golfer in his time, and Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones were outstanding long before Jack came along. Tiger understands this. Many of his fans do not. I want Phil to win because I want many of these people to be disappointed. They are bandwagoners. They were Yankee fans in the late 1990s, Cowboys fans in the mid-90s, and Bulls fans before that. If the Orioles keep winning, they'll buy a Markakis jersey, then brag about how they drafted him for their fantasy team. They'll have the nerve to call him a "sleeper."

No thank you. It's more fun to cheer for imperfection. Because when Phil starts firing at pins, tipping his cap, rolling in long putts, jiggling as he walks up the fairway, trying to convince Bones to let him go for the green out of a fairway sand trap, I don't sit there in awe the way I do when I watch Tiger.

I think: Damn this guy looks like he's having fun.

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