Phil Mickelson didn’t win his sixth major Sunday, on a day when shooting 65 in the fourth round of the British Open was not nearly good enough.
At 46, Mickelson played some of the most stirring golf of his life on that final round, putting 11 strokes between himself and the next nearest competitor. And still he was overwhelmed by Henrik Stenson’s final-round 63 (and 20 under for the tournament). As a now 11-time runner-up in the majors, Mickelson once more was in the role of embellishing someone else’s victory.
This was spell-binding stuff, Mickelson and Stenson feeding off each other’s brilliance, separating themselves completely from the rest of the world and staging a shot-making duel that was the golf equivalent of Hagler-Hearns.
Watching Mickelson in the middle of all this at his relatively advanced age, a curious thought bubbled up: Who’s career would you rather have at this point, that of Mickelson or Tiger Woods?
Stay with me here.
Of course, Woods has a far more concentrated resume of greatness, with his 14 major titles stacking up nearly three times as high as Mickelson’s total. His 79 PGA Tour victories nearly lap Mickelson’s 42. He is the career earnings leader with $110 million in the bank. Mickelson is No. 2, nearly $30 million behind.
But isn’t there something to be said for longevity, for enjoying more time in the sun, and for wringing the absolute most of the meager years allowed an athlete?
Turning 40 in December, Woods, with a list of physical ailments led by a doubtful back, may never be a factor on the course again. While Mickelson, six years older, continues to be a viable competitor and looks like he’ll remain one for the near future (although he hasn’t won a tournament since the 2013 British Open).
Physical problems – and personal ones, as well – have ganged up on Woods. Mickelson, meanwhile, has overcome psoriatic arthritis and his own off-course issues to remain a top-ranked player in the world (No. 13 now, compared with Woods at No. 321).
This British Open was Mickelson’s 92nd start in a major – his 25th after the age of 40. Woods is stuck at 70, and has yet to show himself ready to return to the grind of highest-level golf.
Mickelson seems to have years left to add to his 543 PGA Tour starts. Surely, Woods one day will get the meter going again on his 327 starts, won’t he? The golf world is turning blue from holding its breath.
Woods amassed all his professional victories over a 16-year span, between 1997-2013. Mickelson has enjoyed 20 years of winning golf, between 1993-2013. And if you had to put money on it, who would you say will win next on the PGA Tour, Mickelson or Woods? One guy has been three times a runner-up this year. The other has been recuperating.
In all the important numbers like victories and money, Woods buries Mickelson. But I can’t help but wonder: How much of that would Woods trade to be back in the mix like his old rival?