OPINION

"Without Tiger, we’d be calling Phil Mickelson the GOAT"

Mickelson Goat

After 1,354 weeks, Phil Mickelson is no longer one of the world’s top-50 players.

Shugo Imahira's runner-up finish in the Mynavi ABC Championship on the Japan Golf Tour saw him leapfrog ‘Lefty’ on the standings, bumping Phil into 51st spot.

There are no trophies for longevity, of course, and the methodology that powers the Official World Golf Ranking has long been the subject of debate and scrutiny.

Be that as it may, for Phil to have been present at the top of the game for as long as he has is perhaps the most impressive thing he has done in a career that doesn’t exactly lack in milestones.

Before today, the last time Phil was ranked outwith the top-50 in the world – at the start of December 1993 – the current world No.1, Brooks Koepka, was three-years-old. Three of the current top-50 (Matt Fitzpatrick, Jon Rahm and Sung-jae Im) weren’t even born.

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A remarkable 271 of those 1,354 weeks were spent at No.2. That's more than five years. He spent 787 weeks inside the top-10 – over 15 years – and 1,111 weeks (in excess of 21 years) inside the top-20.

His time in the top-50 has spanned a remarkable 348 different winners on the PGA Tour.

For context, Tiger Woods’ longest streak inside the top-50 ended at 779 weeks.

Just because no player is remembered for how long they spent inside the world's top-50, it shouldn’t diminish the achievement. Rather, it is a sparkling accoutrement to Mickelson’s many other milestones.

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He has won 44 PGA Tour titles. Only one active player has won more.

He has won five major championships. Only one active player has won more.

He has earned $90.7m. Only one active player has won more.

No prizes for guessing who.

In addition to his forty-plus wins, Mickelson’s 618 career starts have yielded 36 second-place finishes, 27 third-place finishes and 195 top-10s. He has made the cut an astonishing 82.8% of the time. He has banked an average of $146,863 every time he has teed it up.

No player has run Tiger closer during his career. The PGA Tour career money list bears that out. He’s earned almost $20m more than third-placed Vijay Singh.

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Equally, look at the wins total. After Mickelson, the next active player with the most victories on the tour is Dustin Johnson with 20.

In almost every measurable respect, there’s a chasm from Tiger to Phil. No doubt about that. But, in much the same way, there’s a sizeable gap from Phil to everyone else. He is so comprehensively the best of the rest that it’s hard not to wonder what he might have achieved had Tiger never existed. Sixty wins? Double-digit major victories? A sustained spell as world No.1? There’s a legitimate case to be made that we might have spoken about Phil with the same terms we have come to describe Tiger. The ‘GOAT’ and such like.

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There is, of course, the argument that, without Tiger, Phil’s full potential may never have been realised. Intense rivalries typically extract every ounce of talent and desire in a person. Look at Borg and McEnroe, Hunt and Lauda, Fischer and Spassky. Without the Joker, Batman wouldn’t have been much of a hero; more an eccentric do-gooder. We’ll never know to what extent but their personal duel has unquestionably been good for both Woods and Mickelson.

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Still, it’s worth remembering that Phil had won nine times on the PGA Tour before Tiger got the first of his 82 victories. He was already well on his way to greatness.

When you consider it all, you could actually make a strong case for Phil having had a rather underrated career, particularly when you consider all that he has to overcome and contend with both on and off the course. Injuries of his own, his mother and wife each battling cancer, changing coach, changing caddie, getting older in an increasingly young man’s game – he’s had more than most to contend with, and that’s before you even consider the ebbs and flows of form.

‘The Greatest Player Never To Have Been Called The Greatest Player Ever’? That’s Phil. And, trophy or not, that’s worth celebrating.

Your thoughts?

Do you agree with Michael McEwan that, had Tiger not existed, Phil Mickelson would be considered the greatest golfer of all time? Do you have a different take? Leave your thoughts in our Comments section below.

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