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Don't sell Mickelson, Donald and Mahan short at this Masters

The talk of who will win at Augusta centers on Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. But Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Hunter Mahan should be prominent in that conversation too.

April 04, 2012|By Jeff Shain
  • Phil Mickelson, left, and his caddie, Thomas Buchholz, walk down a fairway at Augusta National Golf Club during Wednesday's Par 3 Contest.
Phil Mickelson, left, and his caddie, Thomas Buchholz, walk down a fairway… (Jamie Squire / Getty Images )

AUGUSTA, Ga. — One is the proud owner of three green jackets, his most recent acquisition coming two years ago. Another is No.1 in the world ranking, and has been for 61 of the last 63 weeks.

Feel free to include the only guy with two PGA Tour wins this year, who also happens to be the highest-ranked American. Or the man with six top-three finishes in the last 15 majors.

Consider them the forgotten men of this Masters — Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Hunter Mahan.

Although so much conversation around Augusta National has concentrated on Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, no fewer than half a dozen rivals are flying under the radar wondering where their names fit in the dialogue.

"I think it's a little naive to say that they are the only two that have a chance to win around here," said Donald, who wrested the No.1 ranking back from McIlroy when he won three Sundays ago outside Tampa, Fla.

Jeez, wasn't it only a few weeks ago that one of the leading pre-Masters story lines was all the top-tier pros heading to Augusta with their games well-sharpened? Then Woods ran off with the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and the focus took a major shift.

"I think that the landscape has changed a great deal," ESPN analyst Curtis Strange said.

Woods never fails to move the needle, now with momentum to rejoin his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record 18 major titles. McIlroy is the new breed, with the added incentive of redeeming himself for last year's back-nine meltdown.

Then there is everyone else.

"Rory has never won here. Tiger's not won here since 2005," said Lee Westwood, still No. 3 with those half-dozen recent close calls in majors.

"I think everybody in this room would have to be naive to think it was a two-horse race. There's more. I think Phil might have a little bit of something to say about that. Luke might; I might."

Mickelson, who can match Woods with a fourth green jacket, got the current cycle of high-profile winners started. A Sunday 64 — with Woods paired as a witness — led to a Pebble Beach runaway.

Don't forget, too, that Mickelson also went home with the green jacket two years ago when Woods made his reentry from scandal purgatory. Yet even Lefty has been largely left out of the conversation.

Not that he seems all that unhappy about things. "I'm cool with it," Mickelson said. "I am where I am and I'm fine with it."

Donald, meanwhile, owns five victories in the last 14 months. Mahan's triumph in Houston was his second in a six-week span; he's now No. 4 in the rankings.

Each of the last six PGA Tour stops has been won by a player currently in the top 10. Woods and McIlroy each have one; the rest belong to Donald, Justin Rose and Mahan's two.

"Tiger is always the guy that pushes the needle the most, and obviously Rory gets a lot of attention now," Donald said. "But for me that's probably a good thing. I can kind of go about my business and just get on with things."

No one would be surprised, though, if the green jacket winds up around one of the forgotten men's shoulders.

jshain@orlandosentinel.com

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