Lefty put the move in moving day

5/8/2010 - Golf Phil Mickelson

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- A month has passed, but the glow has not gone away.

It would be more than understandable if motivational issues kept him from contending, if recapturing the glory of such an emotional victory took a little time.

But Phil Mickelson continues to ride the good vibe of his Masters victory. It was a popular win, one that resonates with fans who cram every tee box, surround every green, cheer him through every walkway.

"There is something really enjoyable about teeing it up at tournaments being introduced as the Masters champion," said Mickelson's caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay. "It's an extra kick in the pants."

Mickelson had that spark Saturday at the Players Championship, where he shot 31 on the front nine of the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course and finished with a 6-under-par 66 to at least give himself a chance on Sunday.

He might not win his second Players Championship because he might be too far back and have too many players to pass.

But it's been a nice run, nonetheless, since Mickelson's three-shot Masters victory over Lee Westwood, which meant a third green jacket, fourth major title and 38th PGA Tour victory.

Were it not for a guy named Rory McIlory, who shot an incredible 62 last Sunday in Charlotte, Mickelson very easily could have won the Quail Hollow Championship.

And had he played the par-5s better during the first two rounds, Mickelson could be right there with Westwood battling for another big tournament title. Instead he is five strokes back, tied for 11th.

"There's no letdown," Mickelson said about the Masters. "It's still something I reminisce about. It was such a fun week. I could look at that tournament and that final round and get momentum from it.

"And it helped me here, helped me this week. It was the first thing that Bones and I talked about in the car today. It was the coolest tournament to win."

Mickelson very much tried to downplay talk this week that he could take over the No. 1 ranking in the world for the first time in his career.

But there was no ignoring the somewhat awkward moment Saturday afternoon when Mickelson had finished talking to the media and began signing autographs for the dozens, if not hundreds, of spectators who lined up outside of the scoring area.

While Mickelson was signing, Tiger Woods was heading off the course after a disappointing 1-under-par 71 when a boy of no more than 7 years old barked at the current No. 1 player in the world.

"Say goodbye to No. 1, Tiger," the boy said. "Kiss it goodbye."

Mickelson looked at the boy and smiled.

"Hey, be polite," Mickelson said.

That might not qualify as heckling, but the kid does have a point.

In fact, if Mickelson had performed better in his first seven tournaments of the year -- when Woods was on indefinite leave -- he might have already taken over the No. 1 spot. But going into the Masters, Lefty had but a single top 10 -- at Pebble Beach -- and never contended on a Sunday.

As it is, he needs a victory here coupled with a Woods finish outside the top-5 to move to No. 1 for the first time in his career. Woods was doing his part, bogeying the final two holes Saturday. He was tied for 45th.

Mickelson acknowledged that friends and family usually write down a few goals at the beginning of the year and put them in a jar, then see how many were accomplished when the year ends.

He would not say what his goals for this year were -- "one of our things is we don't tell anybody what the goals are" -- and became slightly agitated when questions about the topic persisted.

"That's the last thing on my mind right now," he said.

His disposition was far better when he birdied five of the first nine holes and was 6 under for his round through 11.

Troy Merritt, the Q-School medalist last year who was paired with Mickelson for the third round, had a front-row seat to some great golf and even greater adulation.

"It's really cool," Merritt said of the fan reaction. "It's very genuine. They absolutely love him. And he loves them back."

Merritt began the round tied with Mickelson and got a playing lesson as well, shooting 10 shots worse -- not that it mattered much to the 24-year-old rookie.

"It was a lot of fun," he said. "It would have been a great day to play with him, but watching what he did was an absolute great learning experience. He definitely showed me what I need to do to play at the highest level."

And it could have been even better. Mickelson lamented a narrowly missed eagle putt at the 11th, a close birdie putt at the 15th hole that he misread, and a lipped out chip for eagle at No. 16. His bogey at the 18th left a sour taste, but he still shot his lowest score of the year and has played 13 straight rounds -- dating to the Shell Houston Open -- under par.

Perhaps he needs a round like McIlroy's of a week ago -- a 62 -- to win this tournament, but stranger things have happened.

Having the Masters on his mind can't hurt.

"Even though I wasn't looking good," Mickelson said, "it gives me a little bit of momentum and positive thoughts thinking about it."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.