Mickelson, Daly win popularity contest

Updated: February 28, 2006, 12:52 AM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Like a pair of pied pipers, Phil Mickelson and John Daly led a parade of followers throughout the La Costa property on Thursday. Lefty zigged and the crowd zigged with him. Daly zagged and they zagged, too.

The ebb and flow, push and pull of their second-round match was witnessed by hundreds of adoring golf fans, who smiled and clapped and ooh'd and ahh'd at the twosome for 17 convivial holes.

Phil Mickelson, John Daly
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesMickelson never trailed against Daly, taking the lead for good on the 11th hole.

That Mickelson came away victorious, winning the match 2 and 1, is only part of the story. That's because enveloped in that pairing was the key to one major flaw in the world of professional golf.

Stick with us on the analogy: Attend a Yankees/Red Sox game and it'll be pretty apparent which team each fan is rooting for. Go to a NASCAR race and you'll find the stands littered with supporters of Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and every other driver.

And yet, there were two professional golfers, playing head-to-head, toe-to-toe, shot-for-shot -- and it was like people wanted both of them to win.

Say what?

Mickelson makes a putt? Everyone cheers. Daly makes a putt? Once again, everyone cheers.

Mickelson hits an ugly shot? Everyone feels his pain. Daly hits an ugly shot? Yup, you got it: They feel his pain, too.

Maybe Mickelson spoke for most in attendance when he said afterwards, "It was a match that we didn't want to have a loser. We wanted to both be able to go on, which was impossible, so it was an awkward feeling."

Sure, one sign of a knowledgeable gallery is that positive efforts are rewarded with applause and negative shots swallowed by silence, but on Thursday, one might have guessed that supporters would draw a line in the fairway and choose sides, backing only their absolute favorite.

Perhaps it's a paean to their popularity that each could draw cheers against the other. After all, these are the two most well-liked golfers on the planet and ...

What's that? Did someone say "Tiger Woods"?

No offense to Woods, who has plenty of clout as the world's reigning top-ranked player, but those gawking to catch a glimpse are more admirers than fans. Tiger is revered, respected and awed in much the same way Jack Nicklaus was in his prime. A wonder to behold...but is he adored?

Mickelson and Daly are more representative of Arnold Palmer, with their legions of backers.

To again compare it with another sport, Woods is Alex Rodriguez; Mickelson and Daly are Derek Jeter. To recall another era, Woods is Joe DiMaggio; Mickelson and Daly are Mickey Mantle.

What makes them such famous figures? Well, their, uh, figures, for one. Neither looks the part of a sleek, weightroom-produced body, built for athletic endeavors. Instead, they seem molded for more leisurely pursuits -- Mickelson's persona is that of a do-everything father to his three children; Daly's is the same, but also one of a beer-drinking, buffalo-wing-eating good ol' boy, who makes a habit of dining at a local Hooters anytime the PGA Tour is in town.

They are, quite simply, Everyman golfers. Lefty and Long John. Two guys you wouldn't mind rounding out your weekly foursome.

And on Thursday, fans at La Costa just couldn't choose which they liked better.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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