News & Opinion

Tiger's clear pick for Presidents Cup (after Tiger, of course)

OK, so Phil Mickelson says he doesn’t deserve a spot, but that’s ignoring the obvious

Let’s just cut to the chase – or to the pick, if you will.

Phil Mickelson’s self-portrait notwithstanding, Presidents Cup skipper Tiger Woods need not give it another thought: Mickelson definitely should be a captain’s choice for the matches in December.

“Even if I were to win, I have not done enough to warrant a pick,” Mickelson said during a pre-tournament presser at last week’s CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in South Korea. “I’m not asking for one. I don’t expect one. I think there’s a lot better options for the U.S. side.”

2019 BMW Championship
Phil Mickelson

No, there isn’t, not if you’re looking at this realistically. The Presidents Cup is an exhibition, a ceremony, a golf All-Star Game (without every league represented). Let’s don’t go Bud Selig on this. Let’s don’t pretend “this time, it counts.”

Yes, the golf can be entertaining, here and there. There’s good swag to be had, good money to be made and, most importantly, programming is provided. But this time – or any other time – it does not count for anything. The Harlem Globetrotters have a harder time winning than the U.S. Presidents Cup team. Since the inception in 1994, the Yankees are 10-1-1 in their series with the Washington Generals, er … uh … the International squad.

In that context, there is no question that the 49-year-old Mickelson has done enough to earn his locker. For nearly three decades, he has been one of the most compelling figures in the sport. He is one of a handful of names who make the TV needle move, and only Woods makes it move more. In the wide-angle lens, Mickelson is among the greatest ever to put the ball in the air.

For a Presidents Cup, yeah, he’s done enough … more than enough. The four U.S. picks are scheduled to be made Nov. 4 for the Dec. 12-15 matches in Melbourne, Australia.

Consider that Mickey Mantle batted less than .250 during his last two seasons, and didn’t collect as many as 60 RBIs in either. He was the taped and tattered remains of the MVP who batted .353 with 52 home runs and 130 RBIs in 1956. But he was on the American League All-Star Game roster each year.

Stan Musial, a .331 career hitter, batted .255 in his final season of 1963. But “The Man” was picked for the All-Star Game in Cleveland and drew the loudest ovation when he pinch-hit in the fifth inning. Did the manager have “better options” that summer? Sure. Vada Pinson led the NL in hits and triples that season. He batted .313 and covered considerably more ground than the 42-year-old “Man.” But Pinson didn’t make the cut.

In the big picture, from a fan’s perspective, it made sense. The big picture should be in view when you’re talking about four picks for a Presidents Cup.

Mickelson is not a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately question. Mickelson is Shakespearean, a unique combination of triumph and tragedy, poetry and pathos. Woods, with his 15 major championships and cross-racial appeal, has glossed over Mickelson’s accomplishments and stolen most of the thunder. Rub o’ the green.

That said, “Lefty” always has been more accessible, less orthodox and more reflexive. Has he done enough to be a Presidents Cup pick?

After a tie for 31st last week, Mickelson sits at No. 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and he could fall from the top 50 in the immediate days ahead. If that happens, it will bring a remarkable run to an end. At age 23, Mickelson cracked the top 50 for the first time on Nov. 28, 1993. He has been there in each posting since, for 1,352 consecutive weeks, for nearly 26 years. The next-longest active streak, which belongs to Rory McIlroy, is less than half as long.

Another player being considered for a pick, Jordan Spieth, was 4 months old when Mickelson broke the OWGR’s top 50.

In contrast, unlike McIlroy, Mickelson never has been No. 1. That’s quite the paradox, and that’s the thing about Phil: He is the definition of paradox, open to interpretation.

He has five major championships, but has finished second 11 times. Only Jack Nicklaus (19) was a bridesmaid more often. Mickelson has 23 top-3 finishes in majors; only Nicklaus (46) and Woods (26) have more. Mickelson has 195 top-10s in his career, two fewer than Woods, though in 259 more starts. Mickelson’s 44 PGA Tour wins rank ninth all time, ahead of illustrious names such as Gene Sarazen, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and Gary Player.

His best is behind him, no doubt, but not way behind. Coming into last week’s no-cut event, Mickelson had eight missed cuts and zero top-15s in his past 19 starts. But keep in mind that his most recent victory was in February 2019, not February 2009. Keep in mind that golf has not conducted a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup without Mickelson in red, white and blue since 1993.

And, while you encourage Woods to pick himself – which he should – for the same big-picture reasons, don’t forget one thing: Mickelson beat the captain head to head in another made-for-TV event last November.

So, he’s got that going for him … which is nice.