Lefty dominated the field this week at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, cruising to a four-stroke victory over fellow southpaw Mike Weir despite scoring a final round one-over par 73. Mickelson’s victory was his second consecutive PGA tour win in as many weeks and, despite the fact that Tiger was not in either field, these victories are sending a strong message to the rest of the world that Mickelson is not quite ready to fade back into oblivion.
While Tiger’s focus has seemed foggy since the start of his relationship with his current wife, Mickelson’s gorgeous wife and adorable children do not seem to be hurting his golf game at all. He has now been listed on the winner’s check 25 times in his PGA Tour career and has earned over $2 million in earnings after only a month of competition in 2005. With an average of 5.5 birdies per round, Lefty is more than a birdie per round above his average of the previous four years.
Although most people acknowledge Mickelson as one of the best players in the world, I don’t think they truly realize the magnitude of his greatness. He’s not just a great player; he’s one of the greatest of all time. In the 21st century, Mickelson has earned over $4 million every year except 2003. Since 1996, he has finished second on the money list four times, third once and is first this year; he only finished outside the top 14 once, and only outside the top 10 three times. He is third on the career earnings list, behind only Tiger and Vijay Singh, with 20 percent more than even Ernie Els. This guy is a golf legend, someone who, when he’s done, will have been at the top of the golf world for as long as anyone in history.
I don’t care if he only has one major championship to his name. He is consistently near the top of the leaderboard in every tournament he plays. He’s had more than 10 top-10 finishes four of the past five years and is well on his way this year.
People used to compare Mickelson to Karl Malone and Dan Marino. Now they should be comparing him to Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Tiger Woods.
I feel like I’ve been neglecting the NBA lately. With so much excitement in other sports, my beloved Celtics have been playing second or even third fiddle. If I planned to be at Amherst for another two or three years, I’d most definitely petition to get Fox Sports New England (home of the Celtics) on our school cable system. Right now, it’s just too difficult to trek across campus to watch 7 p.m. tip-offs.
If the Cs continue their torrid play (yes .500 ball is torrid), I might be forced to start trekking to dorms that get town cable more and more often. Here I was thinking that once the Red Sox season was over I’d get more work done. Then the Patriots decided to win the Super Bowl. Now the Celtics are in first place. I can’t tell if I’m being punished or rewarded!
On to the real analysis. You aren’t the only one who realizes I haven’t said much of anything yet this week.
Let’s talk about home court advantage. The Celtics are 18-9 at home and 8-17 on the road. I never quite understood why home court makes such a large difference in the NBA. There’s no weather to contend with, and all the baskets are the same height. What’s the big deal about playing at home then? It’s not like the FleetCenter (or whatever it’s called this week) is sold out for every game, and not one Celtics’ player is originally from Boston. But for some reason, Paul Pierce and company love playing at home.
I’ve been saying for a long time that although Pierce is a perennial all-star and clearly the best player on the Celtics roster, he should not be scoring 25 points per game. He scored that much early in his career because he and Antoine were the only scorers on the team, not because he is that prolific of a scorer. This year, Pierce is taking four fewer shots per game than last year and his average is still within a point of last year’s clip. His field-goal and three-point percentages and free throws are up, which to me signals better shot selection and more aggressive takes to the basket.
Pierce’s most important statistical difference this year is his turnovers, which are down to 2.9 after being almost four per game last year. With the arrival of Gary Payton, the ball is not in Pierce’s hands as much, but it’s in his hands in better situations for him to make things happen. He’s not looked at to create his own shots or take over games by himself, especially with Ricky Davis’ emergence as a bonafide number-two scorer and candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
The two guys who have made the biggest difference, however, are Raef LaFrenz and Payton. LaFrenz, who missed almost all of last season after knee surgery, was the butt of many Danny Ainge jokes last year but has proved to be invaluable in the first half of the season. In only 28 minutes per game, the big lefty (do you notice a left-handed theme this week?) is averaging 11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game on 50 percent shooting. Payton, who will probably be traded before the season is over, has been a great veteran presence on the young Celtics team which includes seven players born in the 1980s and only one player over 30 years old.
If Payton is traded, look for the Celtics to acquire expiring contracts and draft picks. With a nucleus of Paul Pierce, Ricky Davis, Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Raef LaFrenz and Mark Blount, the Celtics are one good young point guard away from contending in the Eastern Conference for the next five years. They will finally have some cap flexibility after the Rick Pitino era, and with new local owners willing to spend more to return to greatness, don’t be surprised if the Celtics are back on the basketball map as soon as next season. Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to see them win the Atlantic Division this season, but anything more than 30 wins this year (they have 26 already) has got to be considered a coup.