Bradley the one who can redeem Big Phil

In this miserable stretch of Ryder Cups for America, there has been a threesome of common denominators: Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk.

They have been fixtures on Team USA, the nucleus, as they say.

The thing is, since Mickelson has been a part of just two winning teams in eight tries, Furyk has won twice in seven trips, and Woods is 1-5, it’s been a fair question to wonder what sort of leadership they have provided. You can only excuse the pathetic record so many times; eventually you have to wonder if these guys do have a feel for this team competition.

After all, only once have all three of them been together for Ryder Cup success, but that was 13 years ago and even then it was owed more to a poor captain’s performance by Europe’s Mark James, who botched the singles lineup. (When the US won in 2008, Woods was not part of the team, having been on the sidelines following knee surgery.)

Now when you’ve won 19 Majors combined (14 for Woods, four for Mickelson, and one for Furyk) and so many millions of dollars it would take a team of CPAs to add it all up, it’s hard to believe you could possess such misery in any facet of the game. But that is what the Ryder Cup has been for this trio.

Misery.

To be fair though, each man’s Ryder Cup story is a study in contrast. Mostly, contempt has been delivered Woods’s way, with a long line of critics suggesting he has never embraced the biennial team competition. Rarely has anyone singled out Furyk, mostly because he’s such a grinder that it appears absurd to question his passion. That leaves Mickelson, who befitting his unique personality seems to be placed in a different category.

Certainly, he’s had hapless occasions — in 2002, his stunning singles loss to Phillip Price killed America’s hopes; in 2004 he went 1-3; in 2006 he was 0-4-1 — but for some reason, Mickelson hasn’t been painted with the same brush that has pasted Woods. Maybe that’s because Mickelson, despite an 11-17-6 record entering this year’s 39th Ryder Cup, has always expressed unabashed joy at prospects of another go at this team stuff.

In the aftermath of his sorry performance at the K Club in 2006 — a trip that included two losses and a halve with Chris DiMarco, a loss alongside David Toms, and a 2&1 singles defeat to Jose Maria Olazabal as Europe humiliated the Americans — Mickelson took on an attitude that has seemingly done wonders for his Ryder Cup mood.

He wouldn’t be Phil the Thrill, he’d be Phil the Teacher. Give me the rookies, he said, and let me point the way.

It worked well enough in 2008 when he teamed up three times with Anthony Kim and once with Hunter Mahan to help the Americans snap a streak of three straight losses, and while his matches with Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler in 2010 couldn’t halt Europe’s win, Mickelson was convinced he was on to something.

And in Keegan Bradley, the left-hander has discovered a young thoroughbred he hopes to ride to Ryder Cup victory.

“I love — love! — playing with this man,” Mickelson said, moments after Bradley’s massive birdie putt at the par-4 15th closed out a 4&3 win over Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, previously undefeated as a foursomes team. The fact that it was the first foursomes loss in 10 Ryder Cup games for Garcia made the American win even sweeter, but as much as anything, it validated the months of preparation Mickelson had put into this moment. Perhaps since Bradley climbed on stage and won the 2011 PGA Championship, Mickelson earmarked him as a playing partner.

If it continues to go well, one could accept it as further proof that Mickelson’s record can be questioned, but never his desire. He saw a way out of his Ryder Cup doldrums and Bradley might just pull it off for him.

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