Presidents Cup day four: Mickelson becomes a guiding star
I would be surprised if the Americans don’t end up strong favourites to get revenge at last over Europe at Valhalla next year. Even the stars we may once have thought could not acclimatise to this format seem to have done so with gusto and no small amount of panache this last week. And chief among them is not Tiger Woods, for all that he played a key part in the proceedings. Phil Mickelson has been a revelation.
Remember Phil who used to go down with endofseasonitis? Phil who couldn’t win a Presidents Cup singles match to save his life? Phil who looked as if he’d rather be down a Siberian salt mine than playing alongside Tiger? Forget it. A Team America star is born.
David Toms might have been the highest points scorer, and given his season even that says something about how individuals in the American team rose to the occasion, but it was Phil’s uncompromising performances, even in defeat, that set the tone. The way he sneaked an outrageous half point with Woody Austin on the Thursday and the consummate victory over Vijay Singh to lead the troops home on the final day speak volumes about how he has come to grips with this competition.
So much so that the man who once seemed to epitomise all that was wrong with America’s Ryder Cup challenge is now being touted as the man to lead it into a brave new world, and you can see it happening. As I watched Lefty at Royal Montreal I kept thinking of Colin Montgomerie and how pivotal he has been to Europe’s Ryder ambitions. Strikes me Mickelson, a far better player anyway, could be taking on the same mantle for the Americans and forming the backbone of what is shaping into a very strong team. Who could have imagined us thinking that one year ago?
There are the odd caveats about the victory of course. Canada is about as foreign to the Americans as London south of the Thames is to me a few postcodes to the north (though like the Americans I do think south Londoners should pack a passport to come north). The Internationals seemed to be at one in insisting the next International venue is as far away from America as possible, although someone should ask Gary Player what part of East Europe he thinks isn’t in Europe.
Singh also made the point that the Americans seemed to be more at ease this year because they knew all their opponents and were relaxed with them, which is not so much the case with the Europeans, several of whom don’t play regularly in the States.
As far as the Ryder Cup is concerned, my big question would be how well Paul Azinger steps into the captaincy hot seat. Strikes me the leadership of Jack Nicklaus is almost worth a few points in itself.
Meanwhile, down at the Viking Classic, Chad Campbell didn’t need to match his Saturday score to win because gusty wind and nerves got the better of overnight leader David Branshaw. Bill Haas seems to have been scared by history’s headlamps as well. In the end the competition was a triumph of iron play and hot putting: the top four on the leaderboard all ranked no higher than eighth for finding greens and putting. Boo Weekley’s return to form might be worth keeping an eye on and it was good to see David Duval make the cut in his first outing since going into self-imposed exile last February.
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