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There's no denying Mickelson is among elite

The barbs were frequent, and often with merit. Phil Mickelson simply made himself an easy target.

By BOB HARIG
Published February 15, 2005


Whether it was the turned-up collar in his early days on the PGA Tour, the goofy grin, the go-for-broke style, the comments about Tiger Woods ' clubs, his continual near misses in major championships or even his own equipment change on the eve of last year's Ryder Cup, Mickelson presented plenty of opportunities to be second-guessed or ridiculed.

But with his victory on Sunday at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, there is no denying Mickelson's place in golf history.

Already a likely World Golf Hall of Fame candidate, Mickelson entered elite territory with the four-stroke victory. He has 25, tying him for 21st all time with Johnny Miller and Vijay Singh .

Only 34 and seemingly entering the prime of his career, Mickelson has a realistic chance of finishing among the top 10 victory leaders.

Woods' career and the past two seasons from Singh tend to skew other accomplishments nowadays. Woods has 41 PGA Tour victories at age 29, halfway to Sam Snead 's record total of 82. Singh, who celebrates his 42nd birthday next week, ran his total to 25 by winning 14 times since the start of 2003.

Those are remarkable, almost freakish, accomplishments. Especially in an era when fields are deeper and more players are capable of winning.

Consider that in the past 25 years, before Woods the only player to surpass 30 wins on the PGA Tour was Tom Watson , who has 39.

Arnold Palmer (62) and Billy Casper (51) did most of their damage in the 1960s, and Jack Nicklaus (73) made it to 30 through 1969, then added another 38 wins in the 70s.

Mickelson, who captured his first major last year at the Masters, has passed a slew of big names: Gary Player (24), Raymond Floyd (22), Lanny Wadkins (21), Hale Irwin (20) and Greg Norman (20).

"It's been fun," said Mickelson, who has won two straight by a combined nine shots. "I've been playing well the last couple of weeks. I'm excited to get the year started with a couple of wins."

GOING LOW, AGAIN: Mickelson's 62 during the first round at Spyglass Hill propelled him to victory, and was every bit as good - or better - than the 60 he shot during the second round at the TPC of Scottsdale the week before. And you could argue it was better than the 59 he scored in December at the Grand Slam of Golf on a relatively benign course.

Spyglass is generally regarded as the toughest of the three venues used for the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Consider that Mickelson's 62 broke the course record by two strokes - and that 64 had been shot three times in competition, all using lift, clean and place rules that were not in effect Thursday. His score was also more than 10 strokes better than the course average that day.

WORLD RANKING: Monday's world ranking was the cutoff for next week's Match Play Championship, a World Golf Championship event. The tournament has a 64-player field, although No. 3 Ernie Els is not playing. That means Japan's Shingo Katayama squeaked into the field at No. 65 in the world. He would get a first-round matchup with No. 1 Singh.

SUNDAY OFF: Singh had a rare weekend day off after missing the cut at Pebble Beach, his first missed cut in a year. He became the fourth consecutive Pebble Beach defending champ to miss the cut, which comes after 54 holes.

Singh's missed cut has given Woods the opportunity to climb back to the No. 1 spot this weekend at the Nissan Open, where Singh is not playing. If Woods finishes fourth or better, he is expected to regain the No. 1 ranking.

JAKE'S INJURY: Crowd favorite Peter Jacobsen likely will have to miss the next two Champions Tour events, this week's ACE Group Classic in his adopted hometown of Naples and next week's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at the TPC of Tampa Bay. Jacobsen had not committed to next week's tournament but was expected to do so.

During the first round at Pebble Beach, Jacobsen stepped awkwardly five holes into his round and had to withdraw. He apparently injured his knee and is considering surgery.

--Information from other news organizations was used in the report.