Perhaps it's time we start taking Phil Mickelson seriously

Why does Phil Mickelson inspire so much hate and loathing from so many people? Sure, he hasn't won as much as Tiger Woods, but you could say that about pretty much every human being on earth. Sure, he might be a little too aw-shucks for his own good; he gives you the sense that what he's saying to you and what he's thinking of you are two very different things. And sure, he often flops spectacularly when trying something ridiculous. But hey, at least he's trying, right? And every once in awhile, it all comes together.

Last week at the Quail Hollow, his first tournament since winning the Masters, only a career-defining round from Rory McIlroy separated Mickelson from a second straight win. But give credit to Phil: Even with the tournament decided, he didn't just play out the string, unlike certain other golfers we could name. No, he kept pushing. He drained a 15-foot birdie on 18, and as a result, get this: Phil Mickelson could be the world No. 1 by Sunday afternoon.

The statistics behind that will make your teeth hurt, so take it from us: It could happen. Here's what has to go down: Mickelson has to win The Players Championship and Woods has to finish outside the top 5. That's it. That's all.

Now, any time before Nov. 27, 2009 and you'd have laughed your head off at that possibility. But now, it doesn't seem so far-fetched, does it? Mickelson is playing well enough to win in any given week. And while Woods won The Players in 2001, he hasn't finished in the top 5 since then. Really.

So, yeah, it could happen. But even if it does, people are going to dump on Phil. (Just see the comments below this post for proof.) It happens when you're at the top of your game. Thing is, if Phil can continue to come up big when he needs to, it's going to be tougher and tougher to mount any kind of legitimate critique of him. And if he manages to snag the world No. 1 from Tiger -- well, I'm thinking the golf world might just split in half. Pick a side now.

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