Two Heavyweights Two Admirers


Tiger just doesnt like Phil, we have been continuously told. The Ryder Cup last year was supposed to have borne that out for seemingly the 100th time, when Woods and Mickelson had a magnificent flameout after being paired together twice.
Mickelsons occasional misspeak ' remember the inferior equipment jab a couple of years ago ' has contributed to the alleged falling out. But such resentment is purely speculation. Woods has too much class to put it into words - if ever it existed in the first place.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods came out on top after his much anticipated Sunday duel with Phil Mickelson.
Suffice it to say that Tiger has never been particularly palsy-walsy with ANYONE on the golf course. After 18 holes, players say that Woods is as nice a guy as you could ever meet. But Woods never has been a Lee Trevino on the course, jaws flapping at his playing partner about nothing in particular and everything in general. And Tiger especially does not make small talk with Mickelson. Mickelson, after all, is one of the real forces to be met and conquered.
After their great round Sunday, though, when every punch seemingly was met with a counter-punch, there seemed to be a genuine respect between the two. Phil spoke glowingly about Tiger after his Saturday round. Tiger was full of respect late Sunday afternoon.
Mickelson was especially disconsolate after it was over, and it is to his everlasting credit that he was. He has been playing well enough that he feels he is superior to anybody ' read that to mean Tiger Woods - and he was particularly downcast after this defeat.
I can understand why he's feeling the way he is, because all the pressure was on Phil, said Tiger, who then proceeded to mention the reasons for noting that.
But I can understand why he felt that way, there's no doubt about it. A lot of the pressure was on him and I was - I caught him at 10, all of a sudden I took a two-shot lead, two holes later he comes right back with back-to-back birdies.
'That shows you what kind of competitor Phil is, what kind of player he is. Don't forget what he did on that back nine. That was impressive to watch.
Mickelson, though, despite his obvious disappointment, seemed to realize this had been a memorable match-up.
There was a lot of positive things that happened, said Phil of this once-in-a-blue-moon day. I mean, I enjoyed and loved playing head-to-head against Tiger at his best. It was great fun.
Later, Mickelson reiterated his point. I loved it. I mean, I really loved it. I want to play him at his best again. I hope he plays his best at The Players, and I hope I do, too. I want to be head-to-head against him again.
And for Tiger, this was as close to the perfect day as it gets. After it was over, he allowed himself the opportunity to get a little emotional.
We were both excited, he said. I can't speak for Phil, but I certainly was nervous out there. If you're not nervous on a day like this, you're not alive.
That's what's fun about it, because we are both going at it and we both knew that we had to make birdies. It wasn't like a U.S. Open where you just go out and make a bunch of pars and you probably end up winning the tournament. You could not sit on a par. You had to be aggressive. You had to be aggressive on every hole to try to make birdies.
Woods gave the impression that just playing against Mickelson on a day when the two heavyweights were in near-perfect form is a pleasure. Certainly, this was a lot of fun to be able to be a part of something like this, he said.
Phil returned the high praise. He may not be playing his best, but it sure is one of the best games ever, Mickelson said Saturday evening. It's just that when he plays his best, things like the 2000 U.S. Open happen where he wins by double digits. He's a remarkable competitor.
And yet, Mickelson made it plain that hes reached that upper-upper level, too.
When he made eagle on 12, I loved it, because I want a chance to compete against him at his best, said Phil. And when he knocked that in, he was 6-under through 12 holes and I think he was playing at his best. And that's what I wanted, a chance to compete against him at his best. I didn't want him to be giving it to me. I wanted to go after it. When he knocked that putt in (on 12,) I loved it.
I think sometimes that too much is being made of the personalities, that this person doesn't like that person. True, I have never heard Tiger dispute the rumor of his anti-Phil bias, but then again, I can never recall him being asked about it point-blank.
Tiger, it's true, didn't like the inferior equipment comment, but then Mickelson in his own way was passing along an underhanded compliment. Woods has a true respect for anyone who can strike the ball a la Phil. Both are around 30 now, and surely whatever problems they once had - or didn't have - are forgotten. They are, after all, two of the game's supreme competitors. And both enjoy the rivalry immensely.
And after it was over, the other players knew what had happened. They knew that they were part of a very special day.
I think it's a great week for golf, said Zack Johnson. This is what the spectators want. They want these kind of duels. They will have a lot more of them. Four or five, six years ago, Tiger raised the bar and now everybody is starting to come toward him.
It's fun to watch as a spectator, but it's frustrating for us because we have to step it up. All in all, it's great for the game.
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