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Matt Trowbridge: Looking for a new golf hero

Matt Trowbridge

I can’t root for Tiger Woods anymore. Just can’t.

So what to do now? For years, Tiger was the main reason I watched the PGA Tour. TV ratings show millions shared that view.

The easy answer would seem to be following Phil Mickelson. Tiger’s most venerable foil won The Masters by three strokes Sunday, making him the only active PGA Tour golfer with four major titles besides Woods, who owns 14.

Tiger and Phil even have the same game. Both hit impossible shots deep out of the pines on the back nine to within 6 feet Sunday. Tiger’s seemed so improbable for anyone other than Tiger that the crowded pressroom burst into laughter.

The laughter stopped when Tiger missed the putt. And the wide-eyed wonder at Mickelson’s 207-yard 6-iron from behind a tree to 4 feet on No. 13 stopped when he too missed his putt.

“Don’t do it; this is too good a story,” grumbled a reporter when it looked as if Mickelson might bogey 17 and see his lead cut from three strokes to one.

The “story” is about Phil winning while his wife and mom have breast cancer, a story the media has milked for a year. TV has long acted as if Phil and Tiger were the only golfers with families. We know more about Amy and Elin than we do Anthony Kim, who finished third, and K.J. Choi, who tied Woods for fourth. Choi somehow was even left out of the official Masters Spectator Guide. We even know Phil’s oldest daughter had her wrist X-rayed after a fall roller skating Saturday.

But Mickelson’s over-hyped “story” isn’t the reason GQ once named him one of sport’s 10-most hated athletes. He’s charming and funny. When asked if he were worried on the 10th and 11th hole, when the reporter said it looked on TV that it was unlikely he could save par, Mickelson replied: “That’s disappointing to hear.”

That’s an easy guy to root for. Except he isn’t Tiger. For years, golf fans had to choose sides. Tiger or Phil. They were opposite attractions. And just because one has been unmasked as a serial philanderer, that doesn’t mean you hop on the opposite bandwagon.

I choose Kim. He’s the golfer Brad Benjamin wanted to follow after he was eliminated. “He’s my size (5-foot-10, 160), yet hits the ball a long way and makes a lot of birdies,” Benjamin said.

Kim made a Masters-record 11 birdies in one round last year. He went birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie to make a late charge Sunday. He’s an L.A. native and a three-time All-American at Oklahoma.

And he patched up some major swing problems Saturday night by throwing a medicine ball around the gym instead of going to the practice range. “My hips were just spinning so fast … and that was creating a lot of hooks,” he said.

Not that Kim fixed that hook. He just managed it.

“I decided to just go ahead and play the right-to-left shot, even though that’s not my normal ball flight,” Kim said. “This is a drawer’s golf course, and I just aimed right and hoped that it would hook left and tried to make a couple of putts along the way.”

Now that’s a golfer I can root for.

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 ormtrowbridge@rrstar.com.