Phil Mickelson is key to the U.S. winning the Ryder Cup

Phil Mickelson is key to the U.S. winning the Ryder Cup

Mickelson has two wins this season.
Simon Bruty/SI

Maybe you're a Tiger fan, or you don't trust left-handers, or you're all heart burned out from cheering for the accident-prone world No. 2.

Doesn't matter. Put it aside. America needs you.

If you harbor a spec of hope for the U.S. Ryder Cup team to beat Europe in three weeks, you simply must pull for Phil Mickelson to successfully defend his title at the Deutsche Bank Championship, starting Friday.

In case you haven't noticed, the guys winning all the big tournaments lately are not "our guys."

Padraig Harrington, champion at the British and the PGA: their guy. Sergio Garcia, second at the PGA and the Barclays: their guy. Vijay Singh, first at the Bridgestone and the Barclays: neutral. Carl Pettersson, the winner of the Wyndham at Greensboro: uh, their guy. Again.

Mickelson hasn't lifted a trophy since May 25, which is long enough ago to prompt head-scratching at how he's still second in the World Ranking, and suggest America's best player after Woods is not "on form," as they say across the pond.

"I just haven't been scoring the way I would like," Mickelson said in his press conference at TPC Boston on Thursday afternoon. "Even though I feel like I'm playing better, the little shots around the greens have cost me. But I'm starting to get that turned around and I expect to have a much better week this week."

Let's hope so. As U.S. captain Paul Azinger rightly points out, building a strong Ryder Cup team is about filling it with hot players, guys who are overflowing with confidence. Phil's belief in his game is most critical because in order for the U.S. side to win at Valhalla, he likely will need to play in at least four if not all five matches, a few of which will likely pit him against the surging Harrington and/or Garcia.

The hottest American player is Ben Curtis. He's proven to be a surprisingly tough competitor at the PGA and the Barclays, but it's unfair and unrealistic to expect this Ryder rookie to lead the underdogs to victory in Kentucky.

No, that enormous task must fall to an enormous talent, Mickelson. It's not that he's been playing badly. He finished T19 at Ridgewood last weekend, T7 at Oakland Hills and T4 at Firestone. He's close. The weak link may be his short game, as he says, or it may be his mental toughness. His most curious performance was at the Bridgestone on Aug. 3, when he held a one-shot lead late Sunday afternoon before making bogeys on three of the last four holes.

"It wasn't a good finish for me," Mickelson said then, "but I played really well today."

Whatever. The fact is he needs a W. The Ryder Cup tests a player's self-belief like nothing else; it's where the tiniest seed of doubt germinates, replicates and decimates pro golfers, even Phil.

You've got to believe his confidence was never higher than when he beat Tiger eye-to-eye at TPC Boston a year ago. They played together three of the four days, and Mickelson still won.

"I certainly feel confident when I play this course because of last year's success," he said Thursday. "I certainly feel good, have a lot of good memories and enjoy the challenge of each shot out here. I think that having won here always makes it — I don't want to say easier, but makes it a more positive experience."

After Mickelson won last year's Deutsche Bank, he chalked up two wins, two halves and only one loss at the Presidents Cup, an easy win for the Red, White and Blue. Coincidence? No. Confidence.

We can fairly assume that Mickelson's psyche today is not what it was then. When the second best player hasn't won in three months, and has overtly lost a tournament that was in his grasp, he's not exactly feeling bulletproof.

That feeling is what Azinger is looking for, so put aside your differences, or cheer extra hard if you already like the guy. Send love to Lefty, because at this point there's no other way for Cap'n Paul and the boys.

Boston, where the Yanks popped their last bottle of Champagne in 1999, is the last, best place for Phil to put the fizz back in his game before it's too late.

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