2012′s Big Questions: Can Phil Mickelson bounce back?

We're just days away (actually, it's Thursday) from the first swings of the 2012 PGA Tour season, and so it's time to get in our last-minute predictions, guesses, estimates and prognostications. We continue with one of golf's most familiar faces ... and wonder if he can build on a down year.

You'd be hard pressed to call 2011 a terrible year for Phil Mickelson; he had one win (the Shell Houston Open) and seven top-10 finishes; he ranked 12th on the money list and pulled in $3.8 million. That's a fairly successful season by most standards.

But as is always the case with Phil, there's the pesky question of what could have been. He was flat-out forgettable in three of the four majors, and only an amazing bounceback on the final day of the Open Championship, where he would tie for second behind Darren Clarke, kept the year from being a total major washout.

So here's the question, as it always is with Phil: Is this the year? Could he take down those elusive U.S. and British Opens? Could he snag another green jacket? Let's be clear here: Mickelson has absolutely nothing to prove to anyone but himself; he's already a deserving Hall of Famer, and if he walked away from the game at this moment he'd still be among its top-20 players ever.

But he's not going anywhere ... and neither are the fan bases, both pro and con, that both sanctify and rip into Mickelson with astonishing, what's-missing-in-their-lives fury. No matter what he does, he'll delight one and frustrate the other. So which will it be?

Mickelson is by no means done, but he's stretched out the string about as far as it can possibly go. He specializes in recovering from horrendous shots, but he no longer has a margin for error at this point. The field is just too good; both American and international golfers are playing at a level where Phil can't afford to give away shots.

Our best guess: Mickelson will be competitive in at least one major, probably Augusta, but he'll have a hard time winning any of them. He's surprised us before, though, and to win big this year, he'll have to do it again.

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