Stop me if you've heard this one, but this could be the week that Phil Mickelson finally claims the No. 1 spot in the world rankings ahead of Tiger Woods. Maybe.
If Mickelson wins the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial this week, he will be No. 1 for the first time. (Phil has also never won the money title or the Player of the Year award, both pretty amazing stats.)
Woods has been No. 1 for the last 259 straight weeks and 601 of the 1,256 weeks since the ranking made its debut in 1986. But Ron Sirak noted for GolfDigest.com that Mickelson is poised to knock off Tiger, last seen withdrawing from the Players with a bulging neck disk, from his lofty perch.
"That'd be pretty cool," Mickelson said Wednesday at Colonial. "It's something we all as golfers strive for,
and it's something I've never done. But it's easier said than done. I'm
looking forward to that challenge and the opportunity to take over the
top spot. This is a course I like and where I have had success."
As chaos has swirled around Woods, Mickelson has floated through a sea
of calm, refining his golf game while dealing with his own personal
issues -- breast cancer for both his wife, Amy, and mother, Mary --
with a quiet dignity. While some have suggested Phil should become more
active in replacing Woods as the face of the tour, he has taken the
high road, and wisely so.
All this leads to a feeling that this might become Mickelson's
career year. He's going to turn 40 the week of the U.S. Open, and
imagine what the buzz would be like going into the British Open at St.
Andrews if Lefty gets halfway to the calendar-year Grand Slam with a
win at Pebble Beach. How ironic would it be if in the year that was
supposed to be set up for Woods in terms of major championship venues,
it was Mickelson who made history?
Colonial is the logical place for the next step if Mickelson magic
is truly building. It would be a totally fitting place for him to
replace Woods as No. 1. Lefty is playing in this tournament for the
14th time and won here in 2000 and '08. He was absent last year even
though he was the defending champion because Amy and Mary had just
received their diagnosis. Players honored the Mickelsons' fight by
staging a Pink Out on Saturday, with almost all players wearing pink in
a sign of solidarity.
Steve Elling of CBSSports.com had a further comment on Phil's concern about how he looks wearing pink:
I can almost hear him cracking, "Hey, does this color make my butt look big?" Guess he never heard that everything's bigger in Texas.
Phil's return to Fort Worth and Colonial is a big deal, reports Helen Ross on PGATour.com:
You can't walk very far around these parts without being
reminded of the "Pink Out" and Mickelson's return. Several families are
setting up a Pink Lemonade Stand on Colonial Parkway. One sign, rimmed
in the trademark plaid tartan, in the front yard of a home across from
the entrance, says "Welcome back, Phil the Thrill and Amy."
The tournament has used a similar theme in its advertising as much as touting defending champion Steve Stricker. Not that the world No. 4 minds.
is almost the defending champion as well this week," Stricker said. "I
thought it was the greatest feel good story in golf when he won at the
Masters, and seeing Amy there, and being friends of both of them, and
seeing Amy breakdown the way she did was pretty cool... I
think he is going to be tough to beat here too. I think he will be
coming back here with his game in shape and winning here a couple of
years ago, obviously he's got some good vibes too."
Mickelson also talked about his record in the U.S. Open--five runner-up finishes--and addressed that obvious anomaly.
"It's actually one of
the tournaments I've played my best at, believe it or not, the U.S.
Open," Mickelson said. "It's a tournament that you would think would be
my least likely to succeed at, but yet I continue to play some of my
better golf in that event. I would love to win our national
championship. It would mean a lot to me... So it's a tournament that
I'm gearing up for and trying to put everything into it."
What ever happened to Steve Stricker, hottest golfer on the planet? A shoulder injury kept Stricker sidelined since the Masters. A week ago, he wasn't sure he'd be able to play this week. He's got inflammation in his sternoclavicular joint, which connects the breastbone to the collarbone. So Stricker has been resting and admitted his game was rusty after he played nine holes Tuesday at Colonial, where he is the defending champion. Tracy Myers of the Fort Worth Start Telegram tracked him down:
kind of wanted to give it one more week, but doing what I did here last
year, and being the defending champion, I felt somewhat of an
obligation to be back here, and I wanted to start playing again,"
Stricker said. "[The shoulder] just felt rotten again Thursday and
Friday. But I got some medication in me, and the greatest thing about
medication, it heals you fast, I guess."
Those memories of
last year's title could help him through this one, too. The victory
here, won in a two-hole playoff over Tim Clark and Steve Marino,
was the start of a very successful and memorable year for Stricker. He
recorded six more top-10 finishes -- 11 in all -- and finished the
season ranked No. 3 in the world.
"Especially when you won
the prior year, you know you have some good feelings going around
here," he said. "I've got a lot of work to do. My game needs to come a
long ways. But you never know. You get underneath the gun and you can
turn it up a notch sometimes, too. I will just put in some work the
next couple of days. I won't try to overdo it and try to come back and
do it sensibly and cautiously, I think, and just try to get my game
going that way."
Tales of Hogan
When the PGA Tour returns to Fort Worth's Colonial Country Club for its annual tour stop, talk inevitably turns to legendary Ben Hogan, its famous champion. Which means its time for an annual flurry of Hogan stories. Rex Hoggard of GolfChannel.com got a few from an unexpected source--former LPGA player Jan Stephenson.
"He was an absolute sweetheart," Stephenson said without a single qualifier or the faintest hint of hyperbole. "He was
certainly not the Hogan that I had heard about. Maybe he enjoyed female
company better than men," said Stephenson, who met Hogan in the late
1970s when she became a member of Shady Oaks, Hogan's Fort Worth-area
club. "Everyone said to call him Mr. Hogan, but I called him Benny,
because in Australia you always put a 'y' on the end."
"He did the same thing every day from 9 (a.m.) to 12. Have his meal. Go out and practice and then two vodka martinis," she said.
Hogan wouldn't hit balls
on Shady Oak's practice tee. Instead he set up shop near a tree
adjacent the club's nine-hole par-3 course. With each club he would hit
two fades, two draws and one straight shot before moving under the tree
where he would create a recovery shot because, "you never know when
you'll need that shot."
It's interesting that Stephenson was
spared the Hawk's wrath when she switched from Hogan Co. equipment to
that of a competitor. "If some company is crazy enough to pay you that
much (money) you have to go," Hogan told her.
Oakmont Country Club is a brute and local observers are already
predicting that if anyone shoots in single figures over par there for
the U.S. Women's Open in July, they'll leave with the trophy. So top women players are beginning to make pre-tournament visits to check out Oakmont.
Natalie Gulbis played Wednesday at Oakmont. She was expected to play
Tuesday, but instead had a match at Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier
with a surprising partner--former boyfriend Ben Roethlisberger, the
Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Colin Dunlap chatted briefly with Gulbis at Oakmont before she teed off for a practice round:
"He's a great guy," Gulbis said of Big Ben. "I have known him for
years. He's always been fantastic to me and we've been friends since
before he was even playing with the Steelers. We played golf and I'll
continue to cheer for him and the Steelers."
As for that showdown at Laurel Valley? "He beat me," Gulbis said.
"Beautiful golf course. He beat me by a couple (holes); we played match
When a local television reporter asked about the quarterback's
suspension, Gulbis said she'd be happy to talk more about the
tournament or Oakmont but, "I don't want to answer a lot of questions