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The agony of rooting for Phil Mickelson

Angel Cabrera won the Masters yesterday. And to be honest, I like Angel Cabrera. I like that he looks like he's downed a few pints in his day. I like that he smokes. (Because not every athlete should be a fitness freak.) I like it that he somehow managed to hit a tree on the 18th hole, growl like a bear in dismay, and then make a miraculous par to stay alive in a playoff. And let's be honest, Kenny Perry gave away the Masters. Up two shots with two holes to play, all he needed was one par and he couldn't close the deal. To see his kids and his wife behind the green, dying with every bungled chip or wayward iron shot, was heartbreaking.

But when I think about this Masters -- if I ever really think about it again, I guess -- I'm going to think about Phil Mickelson. Good lord, is it frustrating being a Mickelson fan sometimes. I've actually enjoyed defending him over the years. I love watching athletes who don't have an air of aloofness about them. I love that he hugs his wife and his kids after wins. I kind of even like it that he's a little insecure, because frankly, I think if I were the F. Scott Fitzgerald to Tiger's Ernest Hemingway, I'd probably be a little needy too.

I say that in part because the 2004 Masters -- Mickelson's first major -- is like The Great Gatsby to me. I've never been more in awe, more excited, about golf than I was when Phil shot 31 on the back nine to beat Ernie Els. That, to me, was perfection. 

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The problem is Fitzgerald never wrote another novel as good as Gatsby. He frittered away his talents and Hemingway, who once deeply respected Fitzgerald, came to think of him as a bit of a wimp and a fool. I feel like Tiger looks at Phil that way sometimes, when he even looks at him at all, annoyed he's even mentioned in the same breath as someone who is such a headcase.

This year's tournament was a perfect example of just how infuriating it can be to watch Mickelson's talent wrestle with his head. He made six birdies on the front nine yesterday. On a day when the front nine was playing fairly difficult, he tied a record for the lowest nine-hole score ever at Augusta. But what's so maddening about Mickelson is that he seems to do that just so he can yank the rug out from underneath me. Realistically, he wasn't going to win the tournament yesterday unless he played an insanely good round. Even early on, I was just happy he was finally playing well when paired with Tiger. But dang it if he didn't have me briefly believing he just might pull it off as he made the turn.

And that's what's so frustrating. Woods couldn't put himself in real contention because he wasn't hitting great iron shots, and it left him a number of putts that were makeable but not easy birdie opportunities. Mickelson, on the other hand, was firing at flags and putting the ball right where he wanted to. And then slapping four footers past the hole like he was putting with a hockey stick. When he dropped inside five feet on No. 15, giving himself a perfect opportunity for eagle, my friend Del shot me a text message:

Tell me you're watching. Wow. Will Phil choke?

And of course he did. The ball didn't even graze the cup.

It's like it is preordained, Del said in another text 30 seconds later.

I love watching him play for reasons I can't really explain. Maybe it's because I'm easily frustrated by the fawning media coverage Tiger constantly receives, and he is, for better or worse, Tiger's most consistent rival. But man, does he make it tough sometimes.

Before he died, Fitzgerald scribbled down a line in a novel, a book he never finished, that ended up becoming perhaps the most quoted thing he ever wrote: There are no second acts in American lives.

It's a silly line, in many respects. And Fitzgerald probably didn't even believe it. Of course there are second acts. Phil Mickelson keeps proving that in every major in which he blazes his way into contention. The sad thing is, I feel like I always know how the show is going to end. Phil will trip and fall, usually face first into the orchestra pit. I buy tickets for the next show regardless.

He gets me every time. And yet I beat on, my boat against the current, rooting for him anyway.

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