I started this thing awhile ago, and then just kinda abandoned it, but after Phil’s remarkable win yesterday at the Northern Trust Open, coming back from some early round hiccups, and capitalizing on a Steve Stricker choke-job, I figured now would be a good time to discuss in lieu of a full-blown recap.

So far this season, Phil has been a trainwreck, which is putting it nicely.  However, he does have a point…many people gave Tiger the benefit of the doubt when it came to making swing changes, but Phil never got the latitude, mostly in part due to his win at the Players only a few weeks after starting his work with Butch Harmon.  Peter Kostis, yesterday, highlighted many of the things that Phil needs to improve in order to be a more consistent driver of the golf ball.  Simplifying it, Phil gets way too active with his lower body, and as we saw yesterday, that can usually result in a two-way miss…slicing it left (for him) on one hole and snap hooking it right on the very next.

But for all the talk about Phil’s poor driving, when it came down to the end, and he NEEDED a big drive on the par 5 17th, he not only delivered, but had a good 40 yards on long hitter Fred Couples.  That was unexpected considering his history after Winged Foot, but he absolutely piped it, and from there, it was all money.

Yes, Phil has had some issues recently, most notably with the driver and the putter, but what has gone unnoticed is his ballstriking has improved to the point where his iron game belongs in the same rareified air as Tiger, Sergio and Vijay.  His short irons, especially, are absolutely wicked, for proof, just take a look at the nickel-sized 16th hole where he smacked a 155 yard 9-iron to 5 feet.  Phil’s irons are fantastic, as is his fairway wood play, but what needs to come back around is the short game, especially his pitches.

As much of a magician as Phil is with his wedges, he’s become unglued over the last season and a half, routinely missing shit he should knock stiff.  It’s not so much the chipping, where he remains one of the game’s best, but in the management and execution.  It’s obvious the marriage with Dave Pelz has lost it’s magic.  No longer is Phil the ultimate feel player, instead opting to get his pitches to exactly 17″, where Pelz says he has the best chance of making the putt.  You can see this result in the numerous flubbed pitches and flops which were normally tap-ins were now being 5 footers on the wrong side of the hole.

But even worse has been his putting.

Now, we’ve all heard this all season long, but what should seriously concern the rest of the PGA, Tiger included, is the fact that, even when taking his C game to the course, he still shot 63-72-62-72 and won.  The equipment and swing changes, still a work in progress, worked well enough to win at a tough track with a solid field and held up under pressure when the tourney was on the line.  Even if this is just a blip on the Phil-mediocrity-radar, it’s still an impressive win.

So why am I wasting 600 words of e-space on this guy?  Because he does stuff like this on the regular.

And because, even with the emergence of AK and Sergio, and the continued excellence of Vijay Singh, Phil is the ONE guy on tour with the game AND the testicular fortitude to stare Tiger in the eye and go toe to toe.  Love him or hate him, and there’s no middle ground, Phil is still a 35 time winner on the PGA Tour and has won 3 majors and a Players.  That’s some heady stuff that only two other guys still playing can even come close to touching, yet for all that talk, he’s been an afterthough since May last year.

I’ll admit it, I’ve overlooked Phil, as stupid as that sounds.  All the attention I’ve paid to Sergio and Vijay kinda put Mickeltits on the back burner as he was struggling during the Vijay/Sergio/Camillo Cup at the end of the year, and my ignorance was foolish.  It could be because we’re sick of the media manufactured ‘rivalry’ or because we’re sick of Phil’s plastic smile and aw-schucks image or because we know what’s going to happen in the end, but what can’t be denied is that he’s easily one of the top 5 most talented players the game has ever seen.

And, despite the new blod, Phil is still the number one challenger to the throne, and, until someone else steps up and can give Tiger a challenge like in 2006 at Doral or 2008 at the Deutsche Bank, or card a recent major win, that’s going unchanged.  Love him or hate him, you have to admit Phil makes things interesting, and that’s something you can’t say about 99% of the other PGA pros.