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Out of the Rough: Is Phil flying under the radar?

Mon 2nd, April 2012

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With The Masters just three days away, the anticipation is at an all-time high.

When Tiger Woods won two Sundays ago at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he instantly became the favorite for a fifth green jacket, and why wouldn't he be? That was his first victory since the scandal and in down years like the last two, Woods tied for fourth at The Masters. He could contend at Augusta with a Wiffle bat and a kid's sand shovel in the bag.

Rory McIlroy is ready for the leap to super-duper stardom that he couldn't quite attain after his U.S. Open romp. Last year, he blew The Masters on the back nine Sunday. He wasn't the first to do it, and he won't be the last, but McIlroy is the game's best, according to some, so this is where he can show it.

Plus, wouldn't a passing of the torch moment between the two be just Georgia peachy?

Mix equal parts great track record at Augusta National and momentum based on great play this year and you have a wonderful formula for a green jacket that doesn't match many pants.

So why isn't everyone falling all over themselves about Phil Mickelson this week?

We all know Lefty won this title three times, but his record outside the victories is pretty sterling.

Since 1995, Mickelson has missed one cut and that was all the way back in 1997. He's finished outside the top 10 in that same span just four times.

As for any momentum, Mickelson finished in a tie for fourth Sunday afternoon at the Houston Open. His final round at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he bested Tiger and made every putt he looked at, is the round of the year.

He's been to Augusta National several times this year already, including Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week.

What's not to like about Phil? Why isn't he considered the favorite the same as Tiger or Rory?

Maybe Mickelson's slide into the teens in the world rankings factors into the lack of buzz.

Maybe it's the fact that a Mickelson victory Sunday isn't as compelling a story as the other two. Could it be that those of us making the favorites just don't want a Mickelson win as badly as the other two?

On some level that may be true, but when the pressure isn't on Mickelson may be when he's at his best. Maybe he invites the fact that everyone will be talking and writing about Tiger and McIlroy, but Mickelson has a huge chance this week.

A fourth Masters win ties him with Woods and Arnold Palmer. Lefty's headed to the Hall of Fame, but this would cement his status as the elite of the elite in Masters history.

To his credit, he doesn't seem to care much about where he's pegged in the totem pole of favorites. Mickelson has gone about his business and is swimming in confidence.

"I'm confident because of the way these last couple weeks have gone," Mickelson said Sunday. "I've steadily progressed at Bay Hill after hitting loose shots. I had some good momentum for next week and walk away from this week feeling really good about where my game is headed."

If Woods and McIlroy are 1 and 1A, Mickelson has to be 1B. And, honestly, McIlroy would be an amazing story, but don't kid yourself about what the real main event on the marquee would be.

CBS would sell "Survivor" to the USA Network in a second to have Tiger and Phil battle on Sunday for the green jacket.

We may get it.

It's hard to imagine a scenario in which one of these three isn't in the final group Sunday. They're all playing way too well to be out of things.

That being said, with all of the hype, it's probably a Zach Johnson or Mike Weir or Trevor Immelman year.

But, sleep on Mickelson at your own peril.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- Your heart is made of stone not to feel some sympathy for I.K. Kim. She missed a one-footer that would've won the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Instead, she lost in a playoff in which she had zero chance. How do you get it together after you blew a major thanks to missed 10-incher?

- I can't honestly believe I live in a world where Hunter Mahan is the highest-ranked American.

- For the record, officially, I'm taking Tiger Woods at The Masters.

- Movie moment - Ever have to watch a movie you have no interest in, know you'll hate it, but are forced to endure it ... then like it? Mine is "The Blind Side." I feel like watching every movie that year because I will find a better performance by a Lead Actress, but sue me, I was into it.

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