A year ago, if I asked you to name the two best golfers in the world, it would have been easy. You would have named Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and not another name would have even passed through your head. Padraig Harrington was struggling, Lee Westwood hadn't yet started emerging, and you probably couldn't even spell Graeme McDowell's first name correctly. But a year can change a lot of things.
Since Phil Mickelson won the Masters in 2010, his golf game has been on a downhill slide. Lefty has had exactly one top 10 since the end of June 2010. He continued his abysmal play at the Ryder Cup, going 1-3-0 as the Americans lost to the Europeans, and now, just last week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, he was never a factor, finishing tied for 37th, 19 shots back of Martin Kaymer.
It isn't just that Mickelson isn't winning, it's that he isn't even in the conversation. Since the Wells Fargo Championship, Phil hasn't found himself in the hunt, with his only top 10 at the end of the season coming at the BMW Championship when he closed with a 67.
We've seen Mickelson go on these slides before (in '06, he didn't win again after the Masters until the 2007 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), but this time it's different. It isn't just Phil and Tiger anymore. There are dozens of guys that are capable of winning four or five times in a season if they get hot, and it doesn't seem that any of them care if Mickelson is signed up to play.
Two years ago you couldn't name three guys that had a chance of taking down four tournaments a season, including a major, but now you have Kaymer, McIlroy, McDowell, Westwood, Stricker, Johnson, Furyk and a host of other guys that are in need of a breakthrough.
In '08 if Phil was flying to Abu Dhabi, he was the story. Now, he's just another American picking up an appearance check at an event where the talent pool is Pacific Ocean deep. Maybe it's the psoriatic arthritis that he was diagnosed with last year. If it is affecting what he eats enough to force him to switch veggie only to switch back, maybe it is affecting more than we know. What if he can't practice as much? What if he is fatigued at the end of events? What if travel is taking it out of him?
While that is all speculation, the questions can be asked without raising eyebrows. Phil is on his longest winless streak since the end of 2006. He's 40. We all remember watching Michael Jordan step on the court in that Wizards jersey and realize it wasn't going to be the same dude. Phil will open his PGA Tour schedule this week at Torrey Pines. For our sake, let's hope what I'm suggesting is absolutely and completely wrong. Problem is, I'm starting to think I'm not.