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Is Lefty finally on line to claim No. 1?

Another week, another shot for Phil Mickelson to claim the globe's loftiest links perch: No. 1 in the world. Until he does win, or until Tiger Woods comes up with a big weekend, get used to hearing the following statement: With a win this week, Mickelson will be the world's No. 1 golfer for the first time in his career.

But maybe we won't have to hear those words spoken much longer, because nobody who follows the sport would be surprised if he indeed pulls off the victory at Colonial this weekend.

After all, Phil won here in both 2000 and 2008 (the last time he played here). He can go extremely low on this course -- he has broken double digits under par three times in 13 starts at Colonial in his career, and his final-round 63 on Sunday in 2000 ties his lowest-ever score in the final round of a PGA Tour event.

Phil won this event in 2008 despite hitting only 57.1 percent of his fairways. Typical Mickelson -- not one for a vanilla fairways-and-greens approach -- he went 9-for-9 in sand saves on the week, one of the three times he was perfect from the sand in 2008.

Take a look at the way he won both times: The absence of logic within the numbers parallels the experience that is watching one of his wilder rounds from start to finish. It doesn't feel right, but in the end, it adds up to Mickelson finishing atop the leaderboard.

In 2000, Mickelson hit over 75 percent of his fairways and managed to hit 66.7 percent of his greens in regulation. In 2008: Only 57.1 percent of fairways hit, yet Phil nailed almost three-quarters of greens in regulation. Makes perfect sense, right? And in case you're wondering, he has won five times on the PGA Tour with a lower driving accuracy percentage than the 57.1 mark he posted en route to his second Colonial win in 2008.

Mickelson has won six official PGA Tour events since the beginning of '08. In none of them did he hit the fairway even 61 percent of the time. Colonial's less-than-crippling rough in recent years suggests that Phil's penchant for playing from the tall stuff won't hinder his chances at winning: Only one of the last four winners has hit 60 percent of his fairways for the week (Steve Stricker last year).


Players should get off to a fast start this week at Colonial: Statistically speaking, the opening hole is the easiest on the course. Not only that, but No. 2 happens to be the next-easiest hole. In three of the last four years, Colonial's opening hole has been one of the five easiest on tour. Last year, it played to an average score of 4.514, with an enormous birdie-or-better percentage of 51.4 percent. The second hole arguably is easier -- the 389-yard par 4 played to an average score of 3.798. Last year, the field combined to make 323 birdies or eagles on the opening two holes.

As it is with any course, where forgiveness lies, you're sure to encounter rougher stretches ahead. While holes 1 and 2 offer competitors a great chance to get below par, No. 4 and 5 holes are the two most difficult on the course, statistically. You may have heard of the colloquial, endearing nickname holes 3 through 5 have been given: "The Horrible Horseshoe." Texas-sized nightmares are made of the long approach shot at 3, the elevated green at 4 and the precise placement required off the tee at 5.

Compare 1 and 2 to "The Shoe." Holes 3 through 5 carried a combined birdie-or-better percentage of 9.6 in 2009. That number is dramatically higher for 1 and 2: 40.7 percent. The lesson here: Don't get too excited about gaining a stroke or two on the opening holes at Colonial, because you're likely to give them back.


Last Friday, Jordan Spieth became the sixth-youngest player in PGA Tour history to make a cut -- at 16 years, 9 months and 24 days. Spieth, the United States Junior Amateur Champion, finished the Byron Nelson tied for 16th. He is committed to the University of Texas, and is scheduled to play in the St. Jude Classic on a sponsor's exemption the week before the U.S. Open. His T-16 finish is the second-best of any player under the age of 17 in a PGA Tour event -- only Matteo Manassero, at last year's Open Championship, has finished higher on the leaderboard (T-13th). Spieth was the first high schooler to play the Byron Nelson since Tiger Woods in 1993.

On Sunday, Spieth was paired with Corey Pavin, age 50. Pavin turned professional in 1982, 11 years before Spieth was born.

So before Spieth was on the planet, his Sunday playing partner already was a 10-time winner on the PGA Tour, and had made 215 cuts in his career. Two of those made cuts came while Pavin was an amateur -- at the 1980 Los Angeles Open and the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

We'll keep an eye on the leaderboard at St. Jude in a few weeks -- as I'm sure you will -- to see if Spieth makes another weekend appearance. The last amateur to win on the PGA Tour wound up having a pretty good career. In fact, we hear he might claim the No. 1 spot in the world rankings someday soon. His name: Phil Mickelson.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.