|Lefty's all right|
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist
Why do so many people who claim to like golf as a sport have a problem with the gambling nature of Phil Mickelson's game?
In fact, I love Lefty's game. Long live Lefty's game. If Tiger Woods doesn't get his third Masters title this weekend, may the golfing gods, whoever they are, deliver Lefty one.
Because it's guys like Lefty Mickelson, and Tiger Woods, who at least try to make golf a sport. Without the likes of a Lefty, Tiger threatens to take all the sport out of it.
And yet, people get all aghast and run Lefty down for taking risky, gambling shots, like he's out there running a mutual fund with their retirement money or something.
He's not. He's playing a game. He's supposed to gamble. It takes a gambler to beat Tiger Woods in the majors. So Lefty gambles, Big-time. He does. Everybody talks about how Lefty won a bundle by betting on the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl before last season even started. That was a gamble, yes?
What you don't know was how much Lefty lost last year, betting on other NFL teams to win the Super Bowl before last season started. The Mandalay Sports Book is still open for business. Just put it that way. The house is always going to do all right. And in golf, Tiger Woods is the house. But sometimes, you can beat it. Or him.
Sports -- it's all a bet on the come anyway. So why would anybody have a problem with Lefty hitting it over water at No. 16 at Bay Hill or No. 18 at the BellSouth, trying to come from behind? At least he was trying. If he was leading by three and tried it, then you can call him crazy. But he was trying to come from behind, trying to cut the corners off. There was no give up in him. No settle. So he hit two gambler's shots. Both balls went kerplunk, and he didn't win, but he wouldn't have won anyway.
Meanwhile, Retief Goosen won the BellSouth Classic, and nearly put me to sleep doing it. Retief plays like Robo-Goose. Lefty plays on intuition. Yeah, he might hit it into the water every now and then, but at least that gets your attention, just like the freaky flop shots, the streaky sawed-off putter. If it's TV, gimme Lefty.
Going for it beats laying up and standing there with one foot crossed over the other and being satisfied with third place. That's the attitude that left golf unwatched since the days of the Bear dynasty. And that's not the attitude that will beat Tiger Woods.
You have to fight fire with fire.
Sure, you can go the well-traveled path, where the most divots are. I think they call that "scraping it around." You can do that. If that's you. It's just not Philly Dog. It's not really Tiger Woods, either. I'd like to see somebody press the bet against him. See what he had. What he's holding.
Not that Tiger's bluffing. Not ever. But ... let's just see.
So let Lefty gamble. Appreciate him for gambling. Give him names for it.
Lefty Sidewinder, the Sweet Spot Finder ...
In baseball, if you're a hitter, you guess sometimes. Sure, it's an educated guess. But it's still a guess. It's a leap of faith to even go up there and try to hit a small white ball that some limber young guy is throwing at 95 mph in the direction of your head.
Hockey? Mayhem City.
Beneath an NBA backboard is like No Man's Land.
Football? War without bullets; "Gladiator," starring Ray Lewis.
Boxing, we won't even discuss.
Even in tennis, you might pull a hammy or something.
So give him a break. Get off Lefty.
And let Lefty get off.
You're not going to beat Tiger Woods by laying up. You've got to go for it. And then, when you make one of those gambles, as Phil Mickelson is going to do sometimes, then Tiger will have to answer. And then we've got a ball game.
Even at the staid old conversative Masters. Shake 'em up, Phil.
I understand you, Lefty. I swear I do.
And I'd bet, deep down, Tiger Woods does, too.
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."