COLUMN: Mickelson now entertains fans more than Tiger
While I never considered myself a fan of Tiger Woods, I always found myself rooting for him to succeed during majors.
Tiger entered golf's center stage about the same time I started watching and caring about golf, and it was easy to see that he was capable of playing at a higher lever than anyone else.
For any sport, at any level, it's most fun to watch someone who has mastered it. The sport doesn't matter; a master is a master, whether it's a high school softball player who finishes her season hitting .675 or Tom Brady during the 2007 NFL season.
Tiger was on that level several times, and no other golfer in my lifetime has gotten there.
So for the past few years as Woods has struggled, I've still found myself checking out majors and hoping he can come through on Sunday and get back to that point. He hasn't. He probably won't.
Tiger wasn't ever the most dynamic personality on the tour. His style wasn't really the most exciting, either. But for the past 15 years, he was the most entertaining golfer.
A big part of that was his ability to reach that top level, but another was seeing him psyche out his opponents. When Tiger golfed well, his playing partner inevitably golfed poorly.
Now neither of those things happen, unless by coincidence.
That leaves golf viewers watching a smug, boring, unlikable person who is very good, but not great. Unless Phil Mickelson is in contention.
I've never much liked Mickelson, and I still don't.
He has the physical ability and coordination to get to that top level, but he doesn't put the work in to get there. He works hard, but there is still part of his talent going to waste.
But at some point on Sunday, watching him be smug and chunky, with his mop-top hair tussled under his hat, I finally enjoyed watching him.
He's certainly never boring. Mickelson displays his emotions on the course more than most other golfers.
That used to be a reason to degrade him. Now it's becoming his thing.
While there remain reasons to dislike him, he's certainly not unlikable.
And his golf game itself is entertaining. Even as he worked down the last few holes on Sunday, when it seemed like all he had to do was play it safe, Mickelson took chances. He birdied four of the last six holes and won by three strokes.
He seems like a nice family man (which Tiger of course is not), but he might not be. Either way, that doesn't permeate onto the course. I don't care about any athlete's family when they are competing, I care about how they compete.
Mickelson goes out to have fun, and he shows the gallery and TV audience when he succeeds (and when he fails). He's now won five majors. He's very good.
More than that, he's entertaining.