Tiger and Phil Playing Nice

By Mercer BaggsAugust 15, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill ' A bit of buzz floated around Medinah Country Club Tuesday morning, word that Phil Mickelsons short-game instructor, Dave Pelz, had talked a little trash in comparing his guy to Tiger Woods.
 
Pelz was quoted in Tuesdays edition of the Chicago Tribune as saying, When Phils at his best, Im thinking that nobody can beat him.
 
When asked if that included Woods, Pelz reportedly responded, You bet it does.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods and caddie during Tuesday's practice round at Medinah.
Not exactly Yo Mamma talk, but in the low-key, toned-down world of golf it definitely qualifies as spicy commentary.
 
Mickelson and Woods will play together over the first two rounds of the 88th PGA Championship. But, before anyone could get too excited about the notion of public spat, the two quickly diffused the situation.
 
When hearing about Pelz comments for the first time, Woods smile and replied, I think Im pretty tough to beat when Im playing well, too.
 
And, as Forrest Gump said: Thats all I have to say about that.
 
Mickelsons press conference was held immediately after Tigers. When asked about the quotes, Mickelson smiled as well and said, My man ' hes enthusiastic. I have tried to not give you (the media) too much to run with, and so Im paying other people now to do it.
 
Tuesday night, speaking to The Golf Channel, Pelz reiterated his comments, which were originally made last Friday, but not printed until Tuesday.
 
'I don't mean any disrespect to Tiger,' he made sure to point out. 'Inside 150 yards, if you get all the best players in the world, time and time and time again, I'm sure not going to bet against Phil.'
 
Both men made light of the situation, skirting any potential controversy by injecting a little humor. Of course, that was their public reaction ' how they feel in private may be another issue.
 
Woods isnt one to accept criticism well from others. Just ask Stephen Ames (see 2006 Accenture Match Play) or Michael Campbell (see 2000 Match Play) or Vijay Singh (see 2000 Presidents Cup) or any broadcaster that has dared say anything negative about his swing.
 
You can even ask Mickelson. He quipped in 2003 that Woods used 'inferior equipment.' The two were paired together soon thereafter in the final round of the Buick Invitational. Tiger, coming off knee surgery, shot 68, four better than Mickelson, and won by six.
 
But its not like Woods, who won his first of two straight PGA Championships at Medinah in 1999, needed any more motivation leading up to the seasons final major. According to him, theres really only one thing that stokes his competitive fire.
 
Ws, he said, referring to wins. Just getting Ws. Thats why I play, is to win and to beat everybody in the field. Thats fun.
 
And then he smiled again.
 
Woods has had plenty of success recently beating up on everyone else. Hes won his last two starts, which include the Open Championship and the Buick Open. In the former, he implemented a near driver-less approach ' and executed the strategy to near perfection ' to scratch out victory. In the latter, he opened the throttle, making a career-high 28 birdies in blowing past the field.
 
He enters this event feeling much like he did during his great runs in 1999 and 2000.
 
As far as the comparison, I think its very similar, he said. I think Ive had some great steps in my career out here so far, and this is certainly one of them. Hopefully, I can keep it going for a while.
 
While Woods was very focused and direct in his press conference, Mickelson was more playful, cracking jokes in response to nearly every question asked.
 
But their contrasting attitudes have no direct correlation to the current state of their games. Because while Woods is riding a high right now, Phil is trying to climb out of a trough.
 
It wasnt long ago that Mickelson was considered by many to be the best player in the world, regardless of ranking.
 
Then came the 72nd hole at Winged Foot.
 
Mickelson double bogeyed the final hole of the U.S. Open to lose by one and has since yet to crack the top 20 in three starts. That includes a tie for 65th at the Western Open, a tie for 22nd at the Open Championship, and a missed cut last week at The International.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson is all smiles Tuesday, despite some poor play recently.
Such results have left many to believe that he is still suffering from a Winged Foot hangover.
 
Its a fair assessment. I havent played to the level that I expected to in those three events that I have played, he said, noting that he has never had much success in either the Western Open or the Open Championship.
 
He also joked: Heres a great example of how Tiger and I prepare differently. He goes into the PGA Championship thinking that winning the British and winning the Buick Open is the best way (to prepare), and I go in thinking that missing the cut is the best.
 
Jack Benny, ladies and gentlemen.
 
While not working on his comic routine, Mickelson, as he has done at past majors, spent a few extra days prior to this week prepping his game for Medinah. He said that he may or may not implement the two driver approach that he did in winning the Masters, but that if he does, he will use the long driver on the par-5s and the cut driver on some of the par-4s. He said that he also plans to use his 3- and 4-woods when necessary off the tee, and will use the 4-wood as an escape club from the rough.
 
Woods, meanwhile, said that his plan of attack will consist of about six drivers per round, using the big stick on the four par-5s and on a couple of par-4s. He said that, like in 1999, he will dish out a steady diet of 2-irons and 3-woods off the tee.
 
Rounding out the Mickelson, Woods grouping is U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. And, after watching their contentious partnership in the 2004 Ryder Cup, hes as curious as anyone to see how they will interact; though, he expects plenty of friendly banter.
 
They didnt appear to be best friends that day, I dont know. They walked on the first tee and they were on both sides of the tee, Ogilvy recalled.
 
Theyre the two best golfers in the world, and you guys (the media) want a story, and thats a bit of a story. Im sure theyll be best friends talking to each other for the first 36 holes; I dont know, but itll be interesting to see.
 
Woods and Mickelson swear to they bear no hostility towards one another. But, contrary to Ogilvys belief, there wont be much conversation between the two these two days.
 
I dont really talk a whole lot in major championships, Woods said.
 
Ive played with some of my best friends, played with obviously Marko (Mark OMeara) in a major before and didnt say a word to him all day except, Heres your card. Thats just the way it is. Im trying to win a golf tournament.
 
In the final round of this years Masters, Mickelson shared a genial and loquacious twosome with Fred Couples. When asked about the difference between that pairing and what expects out of this grouping, he replied simply, Amount of conversation.
 
This will be only the second time that Mickelson and Woods have played together in a major. The first time was in the final round of the 2001 Masters Tournament. Woods, leading by a stroke to start the round, shot 68 to Mickelsons 69 to win by two, earning his fourth consecutive major victory.
 
Both men acknowledged that playing together this time around will be much, much different than it was five years ago, if only because of the fact that theyll be competing side-by-side at the beginning of the week instead of at the end.
 
Its different, Woods said. On a Thursday and Friday ' youre just getting started, getting into a rhythm of the round, into the rhythm of the tournament, trying to position yourself and see what happens on the weekend.
 
Sunday, now weve got everything on the line.
 
And Mickelson would dearly love to be playing alongside Woods this Sunday ' under the appropriate circumstances.
 
Well, if it means were playing well and in the last groups, thats great; Id love it. But if we just make the cut, well, thats not so much fun, Mickelson said.
 
Hes won his last two tournaments, so hes going to be there. Now Ive got to do my job and get there as well.
 
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