Woods-Mickelson pairing falls flat

By Rex HoggardAugust 7, 2014, 7:32 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There was a time when a Tiger vs. Phil pairing would have rattled the oaks that line Valhalla Golf Club’s fairways.

If Woods was the center of the golf universe, Mickelson’s orbit helped pull him along to greatness through force of inspiration. The game was at its best when Lefty was at his best, the prototypical archrival to the former world No. 1 who so thoroughly polarized fans.

The best show in town has been Tiger vs. Phil (see Championship, Ford, 2005) for more than decade.

All of which made Thursday’s exhibition a telling sign of the times for the two giants. It was not the rumble of a rivalry that rattled the trees on Day 1 at the 96th PGA Championship.

“Is that out of bounds over there, Bones?” Mickelson asked longtime caddie Jim Mackay as his opening tee shot at the 10th hole sailed left into the trees and toward a corporate tent.

As a general rule, “provisional” is not a word uttered by a major champion.

Things went even worse for the other half of the fight card.

At the seventh hole (the duo’s 16th of the day), it was a similar scenario for Woods when he flared his drive wildly out to the right and turned to his caddie Joe LaCava and asked, “That OB?”

“Think it’s TIO (temporary immovable obstruction) like mine on No. 10,” Mickelson offered.

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For what it is worth, both players would par their respective missteps. Everything in between would fall into the TIO (two ignominious outings) category.

“It wasn’t very good,” Woods succinctly summed up his day. “A lot of bad shots and I never got a putt to the hole.”

While Mickelson would recover from his unimpressive start, playing his final 10 holes in 4 under par for an opening 69, nothing felt right for Woods, not even his ailing back that led him to withdraw from last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational midway through the final round.

Some were surprised Woods even showed up this week considering his tender exit last week at Firestone, and moments after signing for his 3-over 74 he conceded that he’s still not 100 percent.

“I’m stiff, but that’s about it,” said Woods. He was then asked if his swing was impacted by his ailing back, “A little bit, but I’m used to it.”

Those who still flock to see Woods have become used to pedestrian play from the 14-time major champion in 2014.

After turning in 1 over par, which included a chip-in birdie at the par-4 16th hole, Woods began his second loop with a pair of wild drives that sailed left and found hazards, the first ending up in deep rough and the second a creek.

For the day, Woods produced four bogeys and a lone birdie, hit just 8 of 14 fairways and 10 of 18 greens in regulation and needed 30 putts.

“The man looked like he needs to play some golf. He looked kind of raw,” said Padraig Harrington, the third member of Thursday’s band at Valhalla.

Mickelson’s take was a tad more positive, but may end up striking a nerve when it lands in Woods’ inbox.

“I thought he played with a lot of heart,” Lefty said. “It's not easy when your game isn't where you want it and you're hitting shots that you don't normally hit.”

While well intended, Mickelson’s assessment was akin to the Southern staple, “Bless his heart.”

Both players, however, seem to have found themselves at a crossroads.

For the first time since 1995 there is the very real possibility that neither Tiger nor Phil will be among the United States’ dozen at this year’s Ryder Cup. For the first time since 2006 neither of the game’s Big Two is currently qualified for this year’s Tour Championship.

While Mickelson’s poor play is difficult to characterize, a self-fulfilling cycle of lost confidence and not a single top-10 finish on Tour this year, Woods’ troubles are a combination of rust and injury.

He struggled with back issues early in the year until a closing 78 at Doral sent him to the surgeon’s table for a microdiscectomy procedure on March 31, and his best finish since returning to the Tour has been a 69th-place showing last month at Royal Liverpool.

“On the range my swing was dialed in out there. Unfortunately, I didn't carry it to the golf course,” Woods said.

Neither player is bound for his golden years anytime soon - there is too much talent and determination for that. But what Thursday’s 18 demonstrated is the current state of the game.

For years Woods and Mickelson lamented the logistical realities of not being paired together very often. Thursday’s round was just the 32nd time in the duo’s career that they found themselves on the same tee in a Tour event.

“Unfortunately Phil and I just never get paired together,” Woods said. “It happens so rarely the first two days. We're always on the opposite side of the draw. It's always fun to play with him.”

That the dynamic duo now find themselves in a toe-to-toe match, however contrived it may be, with something well south of their best stuff is akin to getting an empty box on Christmas morning.

On Thursday at Valhalla the trees rattled, but for largely all the wrong reasons.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 21, 2018, 7:00 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Woods happy to help Furyk at Ryder Cup

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 6:58 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods didn't hesitate when Jim Furyk asked him to become a vice captain at the upcoming Ryder Cup.

Woods said Wednesday that Furyk asked he and Steve Stricker “a while ago” whether they were interested in being assistants in Paris as the Americans try to win a Ryder Cup on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Woods said of Furyk, “and whatever he wants, whatever he needs, I’m there to help him. We’re worked well the last couple of years in the cups together.”

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Though Woods has said that he wants to be a playing vice captain, he has been an assistant at each of the past two international team competitions.

Furyk, Woods and Stricker were all assistants at Hazeltine, where the U.S. won in a rout.

“Jim is very detailed, very smart, very analytical, and he’s just a fantastic leader,” Woods said. “For him to ask Stricks and I together, it will be special for both of us.”

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Woods to hit '4 or 5' drivers each day at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 6:25 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Those hoping Tiger Woods will wield the driver early and often this week at PGA National likely will be disappointed.

Depending on wind direction, he said he will only hit “four or five” drivers each round.

During Wednesday’s pro-am, Woods hit driver on six holes. He found two fairways with the big stick and found the right rough four times, though a few of those misses were only a few yards off the fairway.

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In two starts this year, Woods has struggled mightily with every club off the tee, but driver has been especially troublesome. He has found only 36 percent of the fairways so far (30 of 84).

The Champion Course here is a par 70, with water and bunkers often lining the fairways. Putting the ball in play off the tee will be at a premium, and so Woods opted for a low, penetrating 2-iron six times in the pro-am.

Woods said he did not make any equipment changes following the missed cut at Riviera.