If Phil Mickelson fails to win this Masters, he becomes golf's Elizabeth Taylor
Phil Mickelson toyed with golf history in the third round of the Masters, taking everyone along on one of those magic-carpet rides of shotmaking that hadn't been seen in his sport since Tiger Woods' battered-knee run at Torrey Pines in 2008. Yet, it will all be largely forgotten — even the eagle, eagle, near-eagle three-hole spree — if Mickelson is not wearing a green jacket by sundown.
This is Mickelson's Masters to win. He's right there, only one shot behind Englishman Lee Westwood — who's never closed anything significant in his life — now two ahead of Houston's charging old man hero in tennis shoes (Fred Couples), a full four shots clear of a stumbling Tiger Woods. Mickelson is so close.
But close can't be good enough for Mickelson. Not this time. Not this tournament. Not with so little time left in his own prime.
If Mickelson closes this afternoon, he'll flip the script on his own career. That absolute brain fart of a choke at Winged Foot in 2006 won't loom quite so large anymore. Instead, it will be replaced by triumph in the most-anticipated Masters ever, a swift karmic kick to Tiger's head that will hold a place in golf history even after Tiger eventually breaks Jack Nicklaus' majors record.
Phil Mickelson's life legacy changes this afternoon — one way or the other. Even in sports, where the drama is magnified into single moments, you rarely get one as stark and obvious as this one.
If Mickelson can't finish, if he stumbles around Amen Corner, or worse yet blinks on 18, he becomes the Elizabeth Taylor of golf.
Taylor is reportedly set to marry for the ninth time — and it's to a man 29 years her junior. It seems like Mickelson has been in contention on Sunday that many times since he last won a major in 2006 at the Masters. Winged Foot happened later that summer, turning what should have been the greatest year of his career into a scar he still hasn't recovered from.
If Mickelson is screaming "Why? Why?" like he was after his still inexplicable decision to use driver on 18 at Winged Foot with the U.S. Open already in his bag, if he's calling himself "an idiot", if his wife Amy is rubbing his back in the scorer's tent as the tears flow down his face — all scenes from Winged Foot — today, he instantly morphs into Elizabeth. Like Taylor, Mickelson will be the guy who keeps torturing himself by doing the same thing, somehow expecting a different happiness.
It's hard not to root for Mickelson as you watch this Masters. Not just because he's a good guy, the easiest superstar autograph in all of sports. Not even because he's a huge fan of Houston, choosing to bring his wife's breast cancer fight to the Bayou City when he could have turned to any doctor in the world.
Because no one has more to lose.