Mickelson letting No. 1 slip away again

DANNY COHEN, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 6:50 PM ET

AUGUSTA, GA - It's no secret that Phil Mickelson would like to be the top player in the world.

Hey, who wouldn't?

But unlike most professional golfers, Mickelson has had opportunity after opportunity, with none better than this week's Masters.

If Mickelson captured his fourth green jacket, he would have ascended to the top spot, recently vacated by his longtime rival Tiger Woods. While this likely will not be his last chance to achieve a career goal, how many chances can one man have?

Mickelson came into this week along with Tiger as the two most consistent Masters players in the field. The defending champ, who came into the week off rounds of 63-65 to capture last weekend's Houston Open, was the clear favorite to win this week. He had finished in the top-10 at Augusta National every year but one since 1999 and had three wins since 2004.

However, things didn't go as planned, and Mickelson went out and shot rounds of 70-72-71, hardly what he or anyone else expected.

"It's been a little frustrating on the greens," Mickelson said. "I putted so well last week at Houston, I expected to come out this week and kind of light it up. And I have struggled getting the right reads, I struggled getting the right speed which historically I've been able to read these greens very well."

But as we've come to know with Phil, sometimes it's the 20th chance where he finally takes advantage. He's too talented not to. His first top-three finish in a major came at the 1994 PGA Championship, but it took him until the 2004 Masters to finally get over the hump. As a talented player in his own right, he lived in Woods' shadow for so long, but the recent struggles of the former No. 1 have opened the door as wide as ever.

Coming into this week, six players had a chance to take over the top spot in the world. One has to figure Mickelson, who is 40, has to move quickly before it's too late.

Since turning pro in 1992, Mickelson has finished in the top-12 at Augusta National each time he's posted at least one round in the 60s. He failed to post a round in the 60s only three times, and his score so far has him in danger of doing it for the fourth time in his 19th Masters (including one amateur appearance).

It sounds almost too obvious, as low scores translate to more victories, but Mickelson just hasn't been able to find his game all week. Barring the round of a lifetime on Sunday, another shot to climb to the top of golf's mountain will go by the wayside.

"Well I'm going to be quite a few back, but on Sunday a lot can happen," Mickelson said. "I'm not going to count myself out. I'm going to go tonight and do whatever work I need to give myself the best round, a hot round tomorrow."

They say the Masters doesn't begin until the back nine on Sunday, so maybe he'll be right.


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