Ernie Els vs. Phil Mickelson: Who's the Second-Best Player of the Tiger Woods Era?

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Who's No. 2?

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Ernie Els' win in the British Open marked the fourth major championship of his remarkable career, and the third decade in which he's won a major. He's now tied with Phil Mickelson in career majors, which begs the question: Who's the second-best player of the Tiger Woods era in golf? A side-by-side comparison doesn't exactly clear things up, but let's try it anyway. 

The Case for Mickelson
• 40 career PGA Tour wins, tied for ninth all time 
• Three Masters wins, tied for fourth-most all time
• 33 top-10 finishes in major championships
• A record five second-place finishes at the U.S. Open
• Five runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour money list
• Multiple PGA Tour wins in 13 seasons

The Case for Els
• 19 PGA Tour wins, 27 European Tour wins
• Multiple Open wins on both sides of the Atlantic, joining Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Walter Hagen, Lee Trevino and Bobby Jones
• 33 top-10 finishes in major championships
• Two Orders of Merit for top money-winner on the European Tour
• The all-time money leader on the European Tour
• Unlike Mickelson, Els briefly ascended to the top spot in the World Golf Ranking on three separate occasions

The Intangibles
Mickelson's go-for-broke style, one that has produced heroic shots like the pine straw 5-iron at The Masters, has earned him many fans, but it has also given rise to some truly tragic moments, like his 72nd hole meltdown at Winged Foot when that elusive first U.S. Open win was in his grasp. Even throughout the Woods era, Lefty has been the people's choice, a latter-day Arnold Palmer who has thrilled and disappointed his throngs of followers in equal measure. His legendary short game is pure magic, but his persistent wildness off the tee is identifiable for duffers everywhere. Mickelson's battle with arthritis and wife Amy's battle with breast cancer have added to his everyman appeal.
Els' effortless game gives off a totally different vibe. His smooth, syrupy swing is the game's gold standard, in a class all time with Sam Snead's. His relatable struggles with the putter also endear him to his legion of fans, and his son's battle with autism has linked him to a worthy cause.
Both guys exude class, although there are persistent whispers among Tour insiders that Lefty isn't all that popular with his fellow players (FIGJAM, anyone?).

The Verdict
It's close, but we'll go with Mickelson. His three wins in the world's most prestigious tournament — one of which denied Els a lone Masters win — nudge him slightly ahead of Els' multiple Open wins. Lefty hasn't distinguished himself in Ryder Cup play, but he has outshined Els at the Presidents Cup, giving him an edge in international team competition. Lefty has come close more often in majors, with 18 top-3 finishes to Els' 14. 
Els has probably had a greater worldwide impact, but Mickelson has been the slightly better player.
What do you think?

By Rob Doster
Follow me on Twitter @AthlonDoster

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