Phil Mickelson thumped Tiger Woods in their head-to-head matchup at Pebble Beach on Sunday. Smoked him. Whooped him. Stepped on his neck and kept on walking.
It was so bad that Phil could have spotted Tiger five a side and still come out on top.
You already knew that, though. The big question now is: What does it mean going forward?
My answer: Absolutely nothing.
This isn’t to take anything away from Mickelson’s ferocious final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, during which he not only posted a flawless 8-under 64 to win his 40th career title, but did so with his career-long nemesis standing on the other side of the tee box.
Nor is it to excuse Woods’ surprisingly uncharacteristic performance in the same arena, as he posted a 3-over 75, the highest score of any player in the eventual top 40 on the leaderboard, thanks to five missed putts inside 6 feet.
It’s just that I don’t see how one round portends the fate of two players over the remainder of this season. I don’t think the aftereffects will linger for each guy for months on end.
I know, I know. This is the Internet. Next to purchasing airline tickets and checking out bikini models, knee-jerk reactions are what this information superhighway does best.
There’s no reason to believe, though, that in Mickelson’s 21st season and Woods’ 17th each will suddenly and indefinitely inherit a new persona all because of one round of golf together. It was, after all, the 29th time they’d competed together in an official PGA Tour event, with Woods holding a minuscule 13-12-4 advantage. Each has witnessed the other find success without suffering lasting effects. This won’t be any different.
I’ve already read some opinions that claim because Mickelson was clearly the best player in the field this past weekend, it will extrapolate beyond this singular instance, springboarding him to greater heights throughout this season and beyond.
Let’s remember, though, that Lefty opened his campaign with three lackluster results, leading to some self-doubt prior to last week. His game looked superb during practice sessions, but wasn’t carrying over to competition. After winning at Pebble for the fourth time in his career, Mickelson confided, “I started to wonder if I'm going to be able to bring it to the golf course.”
Don’t mistake this for a lack of confidence in his abilities. Far from it, actually. Mickelson can win again this season. Heck, he can win the Masters again. Or finally take the U.S. Open. He can be Player of the Year for the first time ever.
Whatever happens, though, will be further isolated incidents rather than an extension of his early-season success. Though he feeds off momentum within tournaments like no other upper-echelon player today, Phil has ironically never needed momentum on a week-to-week basis.
What I mean by that is some players need to build a pattern of strong performances before winning. You’ll see a guy finish 20th, then 15th, then 10th, then fifth and, finally, after knocking on the door for a month, he’ll break through for that long-awaited title.
Mickelson is an anomaly, though, in that his results have never suggested impending success or failure. He’s just as likely to follow a missed cut with a win as he is to follow a win with a missed cut. The weather on the Monterey Peninsula is easier to predict than his victories. And that’s saying something.
It’s been easier to predict Woods’ success over the course of his career, simply because until two years ago, that was all he’d known. He’s now made 23 appearances on the PGA Tour without a win – his longest such streak since turning professional.
That winless period may end with his next start, which will come at next week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Or it may continue for weeks, months or even the whole season.
Just as with Mickelson, though, Woods’ future isn’t dependent upon what happened in the final round of his first U.S.-based event of the year. Despite what revisionist history may lead us to believe, he never won every tournament he entered – or even half of 'em. Despite claiming 71 career victories, Tiger has also endured his share of heartaches on the course, many of which have come in bigger events than this one.
If anything, Woods should take some confidence from his first three rounds at Pebble Beach. He hit the ball flawlessly off the tee for two days and displayed some very proficient iron play. In the third round, his ball-striking wasn’t as solid, but his putting stroke was sublime.
It was presumed prior to the final stanza that he might be able to put it all together in that Sunday matchup; instead, nothing worked. But Woods should approach his next start armed with the knowledge that at different times, each part of his game was firing on all cylinders.
That should serve as another reminder that things often change not only on a tournament-by-tournament basis, but day-by-day. Phil Mickelson’s thumping of Tiger Woods should be remembered as one of the greatest days in the career of the former and one of the ugliest in the career of the latter. As we’ve learned in the past, though, it shouldn’t portend the future for either one.