Challenging Shots: 2012 Brings Questions For Mickelson

pmickelson02.jpgPhil Mickelson has found himself in some pretty odd places throughout his storied career in golf. But this season the infamous left-hander finds himself in a spot he's never seen before.

The 41-year old and 39-time winner on TOUR is heading into the 2012 campaign amidst an ever-growing murmur asking, "How much does he have left in the tank?"

Long regarded as one of golf's modern era royalty along with Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els, Mickelson now finds himself in an age-old position. He's wedged between the glories of his past achievements and the increasing number of young guns vying for TOUR supremacy. Whereas for many years the battle was in keeping up with Woods, the battle now has been joined by a much larger group.

Oddly, though the questions of his 2012 opportunities seem to loom large, his 2011 season was one that many touring professionals would love to have endured.

Mickelson had one victory - the Shell Houston Open, had two runner-up finishes (at the Farmers Insurance and British opens) and carded seven top 10 finishes in all. He finished 6th in the regular season on the FedExCup points list and took home over $3.7 million in prize winnings.

Stats-wise, 2011 was also a typical Mickelson year.

The California native finished 22nd in Driving Distance, 16th in Scoring Average and 19th in Birdies per round. As you might expect, though, there is one stat the Phil would like to improve for the coming year: Driving Accuracy.

Mickelson finished 177th in that stat for the year at 53.2%.

To his credit, he remains upbeat as always.

"I had some breakthroughs in ball-striking in 2011," he said in a December interview. "I had a great time at the President's Cup in November and, I'm really looking forward to getting started in 2012."

One reason for the excitement centers around the announcement that he will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame later in the year. And, though the PGA's penchant for inducting hall members while still near the prime of their careers always seems a bit oddly-timed, the honor is not lost on the typically thoughtful Mickelson. In turn, he doesn't feel quite done yet, either.

"Being called a hall of fame golfer, it does make me sound a little bit old," Mickelson said in Singapore in November when the induction honor was announced. "But I don't feel old. I feel like I've got a lot of great golf ahead of me."

As most know, successful golf is all about attitude and confidence. Mickelson continues to exude both and he'll need those two qualities aplenty if he hopes to fend off a list of talented, young pros such as Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Rory McIlroy and others. Not to mention, Mickelson will be front and center in attempting to thwart the comback of a certain Nike-endorsed, 71-time TOUR winner.

"The great thing about golf is it's a physical and mental challenge," Mickelson said. "[The key] is the ability to put things behind you and focus on the shot in front of you."

2012 will certainly bring new challenging obstacles to the Mickelson camp both on and off the course. Expect the TOUR's resident "Gambler" to be ready for the game.


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