Lefty can't Phil Tiger's big shoes

IAN HUTCHINSON

, Last Updated: 3:01 AM ET

It's not as if anybody would ever take it seriously if Phil Mickelson surpassed Tiger Woods for the No. 1 spot in the world. Apparently, Mickelson himself is wearing his trademark grin at the thought of leapfrogging the rightful holder of that title.

The only reason that Mickelson was within a whisker of Woods going into the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week was Woods' prolonged absence due to his surgery after last year's U.S. Open.

It's little wonder then that golf's main focus was Tiger's return instead of anything that Mickelson did in his absence.

The game needs the competitive spirit and passion Woods brings to the table, something that Mickelson couldn't deliver in the last half of last season, when it was the Padraig Harrington show.

Mickelson did, however, soar in the rankings with his recent wins at Riviera and Doral just as Woods was making his comeback, setting up a glorious opportunity for himself and creating a showdown to be savoured at Bay Hill between two players who are allegedly rivals even though just one stands out as No. 1.

Yet, Tiger vs. Phil for world supremacy never happened. Mickelson had a chance to send a message to Woods, but the only message that got delivered was that Lefty was MIA for this potentially epic showdown. Instead it was Tiger sending the message with his come-from behind victory yesterday.

The party line from the Mickelson camp will be that he was preparing for the Masters in a couple of weeks and that he will play at this week's Shell Houston Open as a tune-up for Augusta, but since he saw the potential of Bay Hill coming, would it have hurt to play there, especially since he took the week before off?

This is another example of how some marquee players live in their own little worlds. If he couldn't see what the No. 1 position in the world could have done for him personally, could he not have seen what a Woods-Mickelson showdown would have meant to the game in tough economic times?

If Mickelson ever catches Woods, it won't last long. This decision has relegated Mickelson to No. 2 or lower, even if he does temporarily hold top spot in the world.

Two to watch

There may come a time when a fellow from Bright's Grove, Ont., has a green jacket slipped over his shoulders.

In this case, we're not talking about that other guy from Bright's Grove who has already won the Masters. While Mike Weir still has plenty of shots at another green jacket left, perhaps national team member Matt Hill may one day make it two winners from Bright's Grove, although Hill isn't looking that far ahead.

Hill has four career wins in his first 18 tournaments with North Carolina State, including three this year. His most recent victory came last week at the Schenkel E-Z-Go Invitational in Statesboro, Ga.

Meanwhile, Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., is continuing his hot streak of 2008 when he played in the Canadian Open, U.S. Open and was runner-up at the NCAA Division I finals and in individual standings at the World Amateur Team Championships.

Last week, Taylor won the Oregon Duck Invitational at the Eugene Country Club, his third win of the season, including the CordeValle Collegiate Invitational and the Hawaii Hilo Invitational while playing with the University of Washington Huskies.

Experience seems to be the advantage in both cases.

"I'd say this year, I'm a lot more consistent for the most part. I'm not really making a lot of big mistakes," said Taylor who has five top-10 finishes so far this year.

"I'm hitting it really well right now and everything's just coming together and I've been playing pretty smart the last couple of weeks and starting to make a few putts," added Hill.

"I think, just over the last year, it's just experience and getting to know my game a little bit better."


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