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Lefty makes thing right just in time

Lefty makes thing right just in time

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Phil Mickelson produced one lackluster performance after another – until a magical weekend in Houston …

Let me state, with as much solemnity and understatement as I can, on this, the beginning of Masters Week 2011.

OK, here we go. Ahem. Clear the throat.


Yes, he deserves all-caps. Yes, he deserves the exclamation point. Yes, he deserves his own paragraph.

In a year in which we golf writers have been spinning plates trying to justify our interest in winners like Johnny Vegas and Gary Woodland and Aaron Baddeley and Mark Wilson; in a year in which we've searched for a dominant storyline like we search for lost car keys (in the sofa cushions? under a pillow?); in a year aching for a moment, Lefty delivered.

The sheepish, spaced-out, indecipherable grin has never been more welcome.

It may have been only the Shell Houston Open. And it may be overlooked by some on Final Four weekend, and on baseball Opening Day weekend, and while many of the game's top players packed their bags for the cathedral of pines down Augusta way, but Phil Mickelson gave us the jolt we all needed.

After hearing opening band after opening band, it's like The Who finally took the stage. Mickelson may not smash putters like Pete Townshend smashed guitars, but he may as well. Sing it loud: Meet the new boss – same as the old boss. (With apologies to the Boss of the Moss, Loren Roberts.)

On my radio show on KNBR in San Francisco, we had Tom Watson on last week. Asked about his Masters favorites, he eschewed the "who's hot" game and didn't mention any 2011 winners, or even the world No. 1 Martin Kaymer. Instead, Watson spoke that language called Masters-ese, a tongue only understood by those who wear green jackets and get invites to Champions Dinners. He said the Masters was all about experience and "guys who've been there before … so Tiger and Phil will be right there at the top."

I wanted to be polite to our guest, but I also wanted to spit hot coffee all over the microphone early in the morning. Tiger? Phil? You mean the one washed-up guy, and the other washed-up guy?

After all, Mickelson hadn't won since the 2010 Masters. He'd also turned 40, and appeared disinterested at times. You almost got the feeling Mickelson was checking his watch – which he wears, oddly, during rounds – to see how fast he could finish up and get back to the family. He followed his Masters win by blowing a chance at the U.S. Open with a Sunday 73 at Pebble, and never was a factor at the British Open or PGA Championship.

You sensed a total of four major championships felt pretty satisfactory for a player who had a grand total of zero as late as the spring of 2004.

But Lefty will surprise you. He will hit 6-irons off pine straw over creeks to par-5s with a Masters on the line. He will renounce red meat, out of nowhere. He will just as soon go back on red meat, out of nowhere. He will touch you by bringing his wife Amy's breast cancer doctor as a caddie in Houston. He will hit mind-boggling shots, miss 18-inch putts, grin for no reason and hit drives off merchandise tents with U.S. Opens on the line.

He generates thrills, is what he does – which may explain that woman in the red shirt who was greenside at Houston when Mickelson chipped in for a birdie on 1 on Sunday. For some reason, this woman leaped out at me. When Lefty made his difficult chip, she appeared in the foreground of my TV screen. She jumped up and down, over and over, like she'd won the lottery, or like she was a Butler alum getting the score from the VCU Final Four game, or like she had a couple hundy – with odds – that Phil would dunk the thing.

And then it hit me. She's just like us. She's been waiting for something to cheer. And on the eve of Masters week, the big southpaw was the guy doing the delivering. She, like you and I, was just shouting to the golf gods: PHILLY MICK!

Scorecard of the week

66-69-71-69 – 13-under 275, Stacy Lewis, winner, LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship, Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Hope you enjoyed Lewis' battle holding off women's dominator Yani Tseng. You won't see the LPGA Tour again until April 28. April 28!

I won't let my disappointment over the LPGA's lackluster schedule diminish the quality of Lewis' win, notable for a number of reasons. For one, beating Tseng over 72 holes is not on golf's list of "easy things I have to do today." Tseng was the defending champ at the Kraft Nabisco and is the No. 1 ranked player in the world by a good margin.

Two, Lewis is the first American to win an LPGA event this year. I don't mean to go all Archie Bunker here, but I think we can all agree that having an American win in international fields does well to support any sport, as I was just saying to my good friends, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

And three, Lewis is an inspiration. Her diagnosis of scoliosis may sound like just another medical term to you or I, but it's not only a very painful and debilitating disease but also one that affects self-image and confidence. The idea of wearing a back brace 18 hours a day all through your pre-teen years and puberty and into young womanhood is a scarring experience for somebody who's just trying to fit in – let alone be a world-class athlete. That Lewis conquered both the physical and mental aspects of scoliosis is rather impressive.

All told, a great day for the LPGA, and for Lewis, who said afterward: "I've felt like I was going to throw up all day." She didn't barf on the golf course? Yet another reason to cheer.

Mulligan of the week

• I'm a little torn in handing out this week's Mully. There were no obvious missteps, huge gaffes, or embarrassing mishits at key times as both Mickelson and Lewis coasted to three-shot wins.

So, the Mully this week goes off-course, to a couple of rogue lads who broke the rules of engagement – and yet, oddly, I want to applaud them at the same time, too.

Maybe some of you have seen the video footage sent out on Twitter by Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter before their practice round at Augusta National last week. For the average couch potato, it was insider stuff: a handheld video camera taken down Magnolia Lane … then into the clubhouse … and up the staircase to the second floor … and then panning the porch and the golf course.

Now. We've all seen Magnolia Lane in photos and in CBS footage. And we've all seen the outside of the clubhouse. And we've all seen the golf course. So, really, what McDowell and Poulter did was essentially no big deal.

And truth told, the idea of bringing new media to Augusta National – which embraced Hi-Def TV on the forefront; and 3-D TV on the forefront – fits their tech-friendly approach.

That being said … you just KNOW the Green Jackets were none too pleased that Poulter and McDowell were showing Augusta National on Poulter and McDowell's terms – and not the terms forced on CBS by Augusta National, dig?

See, Cliff Roberts, the late grand poobah of ANGC, who dictated all the rules of the syrupy TV coverage the Masters gets every year from CBS – what to show, what not to show, and when not to show it, on penalty of death, or expulsion, whichever comes first – probably wouldn't approve of a couple of rogues tweeting footage from inside the sacred clubhouse. Let's add in the fact that one of the rogues has spiked, gelled hair just to further rankle the ghost of Cliff Roberts.

All this rogue behavior is not in keeping with the decorum of what the Green Jackets like to call, in their soft Georgia accents, the tuh-na-ment.

Then again, there was a cinema verite appeal to the tweeted video, and a sort of underground, breaking-in, "Ocean's 11" feel to it.

So while I started out by thinking I'd say to McDowell and Poulter … "give those boys a Mulligan!" … I will reconsider on the fly and say: Question authority, lads! Rock on.

Broadcast moment of the week

"We didn't have a clear favorite did we, a few days ago, on who might win the Masters. There was a lot of debate. But the clouds have parted. It's pretty obvious who's the clear favorite now … This'll wake Tiger up." – Johnny Miller, buying in to PhilMania, NBC.

Johnny Miller, the BMOW will miss you. NBC's coverage disappears until the U.S. Open, and Miller – a weekly lock for Broadcast Moment of the Week – goes out on top.

Let's add to the fire and note that Phil has now passed Tiger in the Official World Golf Rankings – coming in at No. 3 to Tiger's No. 7. That's the first time Lefty > Tiger in the OWGR since the week before Tiger's 1997 Masters win.

Full-circle symbolism, anybody?

Where do we go from here?

• It's like Louis Armstrong said about jazz – if you've gotta ask, you'll never know.

Gentlemen, start your Masters!