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Forget the season, but not Mickelson

In the worst season of Phil Mickelson's career, this is probably the best that can be said. It did end early.

The weekend hardly arrived and Mickelson already had departed. Nineteen strokes off the lead, a dozen strokes beyond par and many smiles shy of happy. Though, as cuts go, you might argue this one was not terribly unkind.

You see, there was little for Mickelson to accomplish at the Chrysler Championship. He is not pursing anyone in the rankings; he was not likely to win a spot at next week's Tour Championship. Mickelson simply was closing the season's book long after the plot's details had been revealed.

And, you have to admit, there were twists along the way.

For instance, Mickelson no longer is the highest-rated player never to have won a major. And you thought actually winning a major was the only route out of that mess. Yet Mickelson found another. He got worse.

Did you know Kenny Perry, who never has won a major, is ranked higher than Mickelson today? So is Padraig Harrington. And Darren Clarke, too.

Mickelson began the year as the No. 2 player in the world. A victoryless season later, he is ranked 13th and fading fast.

This is what happens when you drive long, but not straight. Or when you start fast, but do not finish. This is what happens when you lose yourself.

Of all the explanations offered for Mickelson's difficult season, that one is heard quite often. There is a sense that he has forgotten the qualities that made him shine. That he is playing more with pride than purpose.

Mickelson always has been aggressive. For those who thought he lacked heart in majors, there are others who believed he was too bold. He was the one player never afraid to make an improbable shot.

But now he seems to have that in mind every time he steps to the tee. Some have suggested Mickelson is obsessed with driving the ball farther than anyone can imagine. That he sacrifices precision for distance.

For proof, they point to the statistics. Mickelson is fourth on the tour in driving distance, but 192nd in driving accuracy. That has long been the trend in his career, but the disparity has never been so great.

Mickelson, 33, previously has said he merely is trying to stay ahead of the curve. Keeping up with younger, stronger players. Paying attention to the technology that has led to longer drives.

Lately, though, Mickelson has had little to say. He has politely declined most interviews, saying he appreciates the interest but would rather pass.

You get the sense that Mickelson feels picked upon. That he is tired of hearing about his majorless streak. That he is weary of being the sidekick to Tiger Woods' legend. That three straight seasons of being No. 2 has taken a toll.

He no longer has to worry about being No. 2.

Now, he is 37th on the tour's money list.

It is his worst finish since joining the tour full time in 1993. It also is the first time he has not been invited to the Tour Championship.

Which begs the question:

Is he feeling more pressure or less?

Can Mickelson point to Ernie Els or Vijay Singh or Davis Love and tell them to take up the chase of Woods? Does that ease his burden?

Or does he look at himself and wonder when the greatness departed and, further, when it might return? Does that add to his freight?

Either way, this season looks more like an aberration than a direction. It has been 16 months since his last victory, but it likely will not be that long before his next. The gifts are too numerous. The past is too impressive.

Mickelson remains one of the most popular players on the tour and that, also, is not likely to change. If he could not beat Woods inside the ropes, Mickelson always made sure he would be better outside the clubhouse.

He went through a line of autograph seekers Friday, following one of his worst performances in his worst season, and Mickelson was as charming as ever. He smiled. He exchanged banter. And he thanked everyone.

Maybe he is better off now. Maybe he needed to take this step back before taking a couple of steps forward. Maybe there is life after No. 2.

Mickelson is not the first player to endure a difficult season. And he is not the only player to struggle this week. Former Masters and British Open champion Mark O'Meara also missed the cut. So did former PGA champion Rich Beem.

So maybe you might look at it this way:

Mickelson was not the worst golfer at the Chrysler Championship.

But he was among the worst never to have won a major.

Up next:SIDE LINE

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