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MUIRFIELD TO MEXICO

The distance from Muirfield in Scotland to Mexico City is over 5000 miles. Phil Mickelson’s 42nd PGA TOUR victory was winning the 2013 Open Championship (his 5th Major) in Muirfield. The Hall of Famer’s 43rd victory was in Mexico City on Sunday. Five thousand miles and 40,000 hours apart. Muirfield to Mexico City, with plenty of trials and tribulations in between.

To put that victory drought in perspective, it is just over 2000 hours until the first tee shot is struck at Shinnecock for this year’s US Open Championship. Only five players in golf history have won all four of golf’s Majors. Mickelson has trophies for the other three but not our national championship, the one he wants the most, which would complete his career grand slam. That Mickelson has finished second a record six times in the US Open makes it even more frustrating for him.

But, according to Phil, he is on the right path. On Sunday, Mickelson won the World Golf Championship–Mexico Championship in a playoff with the hottest golfer on the planet and last year’s Player of the Year, Justin Thomas. After the win, Mickeslon said “having a win prior to the majors is a huge step to getting the job done,” meaning, for him, he’s on the right path to winning that last Major come June.

What’s really strange is when you look Mickelson’s 43 career wins, he’s never ever been ranked number one in the world, never been Player of the Year, and never the leading money winner. In fact, in 1992, the year Mickelson made his debut on the PGA Tour, he was not even named Rookie of the Year. One time Tour winner Mark Carnevale received that honor.

Welcome to the “Tiger Era.” Even though Mickelson is five years older than Tiger Woods, their careers have run on parallel time tracks. Mickelson won a PGA Tour event, the Tucson Open, as an amateur, then finished college, before beginning his pro career. Tiger left Stanford after his second year, and won his first event that same year. Tiger went on to win 79 PGA Tour victories, including 14 Majors. Unfortunate timing for Mickelson’s career, but he readily admits he has always liked a challenge.

Phil has had a four-and-a-half year slump. Tiger has had injuries, surgeries, and a slew of personal problems to deal with. After Mickelson’s Sunday victory, at age 47, Tiger must be feeling like a youngster at only 42. Apparently, their golf games are now rounding into shape and, if we’re lucky, we will all get to witness a different rivalry. This time both Phil and Tiger have others to worry about . . . a rash of really good, talented young players all seeking Major victories. One thing we know for sure, it is not easy to win at the professional level. Nancy Lopez and Sam Sneed, both all-time greats, never won a US Open.

Mickelson’s win in Mexico over a field of the top 64 players in the world was extra sweet, as it was Team Mickelson all the way. Phil’s younger brother, Tim, is now his caddie and it was his first win on his brother’s bag. Mickelson’s longtime caddie, Jim “Bones” McKay, now carries a microphone for NBC Sports and for sure, it is quite a bit lighter than a 40-pound Tour bag.

Muirfield and the 2013 Open Championship is in the rearview mirror, but Phil seems to be on the right road leading to Shinnecock.