ATLANTA – Two hundred and sixty-three weeks, and counting.
For more than five years of his career, Phil Mickelson's been No. 2 in the world golf rankings.
It's an astonishing feat -- more than double the number of weeks of the next man on the list, Nick Faldo -- and reminds me a lot of Marv Levy's Buffalo Bills teams from the early '90s. They were roundly condemned as 'Super Bowl Serial Killers' after losing the big game four straight times, but what about the other side of the coin?
Was it not a colossal achievement just to have gotten to the last game of the year four consecutive years?
Or must history only remember the winners?
That the Bills lost those Super Bowls had much to do, too, with the caliber of the teams they faced, and that's been Mickelson's curse.
He's had to contend in the Tiger Woods era.
Woods has spent 618 weeks of his career at No. 1. That's almost 12 years. His current streak stands at 276 weeks.
But it's true, too, that he's been made to relinquish the crown.
But will Phil ever get there?
For the 12th time since he won the Masters in April, Mickelson will have a chance this week to unseat Woods, who for the first time in his professional career hasn't qualified for a tournament and isn't at the Tour Championship.
As the defending champion at East Lake, Mickelson needs to finish in no worse than a three-way tie for second to finally break through.
"I'd love to take advantage of the opportunity," the Californian said Wednesday.
"I don't follow the ranking points and so forth, but I know that I've had multiple opportunities for months, and I haven't played well enough to do it. Hopefully, I do this week."
But is he really hopeful of doing it this week?
I've long wondered if No. 1 is not just something Mickelson's equipped for, but if it's something he even wants.
Heavy lies the crown, to borrow from Jack Nicholson's mangled Shakespeare in "The Departed."
Beyond the responsibilities that go with No. 1, the truth is that Mickelson's just never been consistent enough as a player to stay at the top even if he gets there.
He's a high-wire act, either breathtakingly brilliant or a train wreck ... and rarely in between.
This year he's ranked 110th in ball-striking on the PGA Tour, in large part because he doesn't hit many fairways, and is 118th in greens hit in regulation.
Yet he's seventh in scoring average, which speaks to just how good his best golf is that it can offset the bad days.
It dawned on me listening to Mickelson at East Lake on Wednesday that he's probably not as concerned about that No. 1 ranking as we think him to be.
Indeed, I got the distinct impression that he long ago achieved his goal for 2010.
"The Masters kind of made the year for me," he said of his fourth career major. "It meant a lot to us emotionally, it meant a lot to me personally."
Mickelson's wife, Amy, and his mother were both diagnosed with early stage breast cancer last year and, in that sense, the green jacket was a victory for the entire Mickelson family.
"I look back on the year, and it really comes down to that one event," he said. "I mean, there were other events I played OK in, but, for me the year was kind of salvaged by that Masters win. That's how much that tournament means to me."
Mickelson was asked whether golf had been anticlimactic since April.
"I wouldn't say that, but my performance certainly would lead you to believe it," he said. "But I was excited about playing other events. I mean, I was really motivated and excited about the U.S. Open and the other majors, as well.
"But I wasn't able to put together my best play."
And maybe that's Phil in a nutshell.
Maybe he's content with the $50 million a year he pockets from sponsors and prize money; content with being a father and husband instead of a driven golfaholic.
Maybe he knows he's 40 and that the psoriatic arthritis that's been bothering him since June isn't going to make golf any easier from here on out, and maybe he's decided to focus on winning a few more big ones and not sweat the small stuff.
And maybe he'll just smile and shrug if history calls him the best player never to have made it to No. 1.