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No. 1 position on the Official World Golf Ranking with a high finish, but never delivered. He was also a disap- pointment at the Ryder Cup. But what wasn’t commonly known was that Mickelson still had plenty of stress. Though Amy’s cancer was arrest- ed, she struggled with the effects of her ongoing treatment. And at the PGA Championship, Mickelson revealed that beginning at the U.S. Open, he had been suffering the joint stiffening effects of psoriatic arthritis. Although he said he got the potentially career threatening condition under control with medication, Mickelson was wor- ried enough to also try a vegetarian diet even after investing in the hamburger chain, “Five Guys.” Woods’ and Mickelson’s troubles


have meant a lot more guys than five are now legitimately vying to become the game’s best player. Lee Westwood became the most consistent player in golf and in October wrested the No. 1 position on the Official World Golf Ranking from Woods, who had held it since 2005. Martin Kaymer of Ger- many won a major and a several other tournaments, while the gifted Dustin Johnson overpowered courses, won twice, and ominously got his name to the top of major championship leader boards. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, and teenagers Ryo Ishikawa and Matteo Manassero give every indication that youth is coming like never before. It’s all making Tiger, 35, and Phil,


40, suddenly seem old. But while it might seem tempting to say their primes are over, the odds are better that they both will come back strong in 2011. First of all, their proven ability to win should not be underestimated. Mickelson’s 38 official career victories put him closest to Woods in the current era. It should be noted that the only other players 40 years old or under to have double digit career victories on the PGA Tour are Jim Furyk (16), David Duval (13), and Justin Leonard (13), which should make the wunderkinder appreciate the winning pace of the duo they are trying to supplant. Assuming Woods and Mickelson get themselves in the hunt more often in 2011, they


34 / NCGA.ORG / WINTER 2011


Woods will on occasion get passionate about the improvements he is making in his technique, and after his loss at the Chevron his words about the work he would be doing to prepare for 2011 with new swing coach Sean Foley served as code for his overall effort. “We—we meaning Sean and I—


One thing is sure. Since their days in Southern California junior golf, Woods and


Mickelson have driven each other to heights they might not otherwise have reached.


know the direction we need to go,” he said. “I’m just really excited about this off-season. I haven’t been that way in a while.” Mickelson is harder to read. It’s pos- sible that with the health crisis his loved ones have undergone, golf may no longer seem as important. While he’s put in a lot of work on tightening his swing with Butch Harmon over the last several years, his ball striking has remained er- ratic, as evidenced by his rank of 155th in greens in regulation in 2010. But Mickelson has always been


mercurial, his risky but bodacious 207 yard 6-iron from the pine straw on the 13th at Augusta a symbol of his whole career. Streaky or not, his fourth career major put him 1 up in history on con- temporaries Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington and thus, for now, still the second best player of the Woods Era. The question is whether, after the immense satisfaction of third Masters victory, Mickelson will be able to sum- mon the same kind of effort to rise to the top of the game again. “For me, the year was kind of sal- vaged by that Masters win,” he said at the end of 2010. “It was a more emo- tional experience than just winning a golf tournament, for me and for us. It meant a lot to share that kind of joy given the last year or so.” It was an an- swer that begged the constant question, “What will Phil do next?” For the first time, Tiger is being


won’t have forgotten how to convert. Woods, whose pursuit of Jack Nick-


laus’ career record of 18 majors champi- onships has been stalled at 14 since his victory at the 2008 U.S. Open, is extra hungry. While he’s kept his outward ex- pressions mostly impassive as the world tries to peer into his psyche, it’s obvious to veteran observers that the accumu- lated adversity has activated his pride and determination to a new intensity. Never very revealing of his feelings,


appraised with the same uncertainty. One thing is sure. Since their days in Southern California junior golf, Woods and Mickelson have driven each other to heights they might not otherwise have reached. In 2011, as they strive to regain their former positions in the game, these two rivals could end up the other’s biggest ally.


Jaime Diaz is a senior writer for Golf Digest


and formerly with The New York Times and Sports Illustrated.


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