Dynamic Duo


Quail Hollow ChampionshipCHARLOTTE, N.C. – Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods passed within 10 feet of each other just past noon on Wednesday here in the heart of southern hospitality without saying a word.

No need.

Not with the type of “War and Peace” body language alpha and omega had going on a cold, windy day at Quail Hollow. One was fresh from a third green jacket, the other a metaphorical triumph that has become easier to swallow with Magnolia Lane now a fortnight in the rearview.

“I wasn't very happy I lost,” Woods said. “But given a little time to reflect on it, it was an incredible week. I think it went as well as it could have possibly gone.”

Golf is at its best when Tiger and Phil are at their best, and by all accounts Nos. 1 and 2 have finished dancing around one another.

Since Tiger time began, Mickelson has been the hands down “best supporting actor.” But the show was always Tiger’s. Yet that reality, in a subtle way, has started to shift slightly and it began long before the fire hydrant.

In the last three events both have played (Tour Championship, WGC-HSBC Champions and Masters) Mickelson is 3-0. Lefty is 2.46 world ranking points behind Woods and victories this week and next week at TPC Sawgrass would propel Lefty into the top spot.

Mickelson has been closer, at least statistically. After his victory last year at the WGC-CA Championship he moved within a half point of Woods in the World Ranking. But even then one didn’t feel an impending tectonic shift atop the golf world.

Now, however, the vibe is different. The gulf that always existed between the two hasn’t closed, but there is a distinct feeling that it has narrowed.

It’s telling how each player spent the last two weeks.

Mickelson said he felt “isolated” as he spent time with his family and didn’t hide his confidence, “I have high expectations,” he said. And why wouldn’t he? His Masters three-peat was the perfect combination of performance and blind self-belief.

Asked if he’d watched any highlights of his victory Mickelson’s mind immediately went to his bold approach shot from the pine straw at the 13th hole on Sunday.

“I kind of looked back and saw some of the pictures, I was like . . . what was I doing? But it worked out,” Mickelson smiled.

While Woods still seemed to be searching for normalcy, both on and off the golf course. Even with the Augusta National storm in the books it’s clear it is not business as usual in Camp Tiger.

“There's paparazzi everywhere, at home, helicopters here and there, people driving by, paparazzi camping out in front of the gates. That hasn't changed,” Woods said.

But then it’s not as though karma has much interest in staying on script. Tiger vs. Phil Sunday showdowns are special because they are rare. As gifted as both players are the odds of them simultaneously answering the call are not in the game’s favor.

On Wednesday Woods looked “scratchy” in his pro-am round. He was experimenting with a new golf ball around the greens and an old one off the tee box that had an affinity for the trees right of fairways.

Hours later Mickelson walked off Quail Hollow after just six pro-am holes suffering from dehydration. In a statement released by tournament officials, Mickelson said he felt ill on Tuesday evening but expects to tee off for the first round on Thursday afternoon.

Simply put, neither top card looked Sunday ready. But from humble beginnings come great things.

Flash back to Wednesday at Augusta National. Woods was justifiably distracted by an uncomfortable return to the spotlight without a tune-up round outside the gates of Isleworth, while Mickelson had just a single top-10 finish in 2010 and appeared rightfully distracted by his wife’s ongoing health issues.

Both exceeded expectations, which has become the norm rather than the exception.

Quail Hollow is a major championship venue that both players enjoy. Ditto for TPC Sawgrass and Pebble Beach (U.S. Open), to say nothing of Muirfield Village (Memorial). The showdown may not be coming this week, but it is coming.

It was etched into both players’ body language even as the two headed silently in opposite directions on Wednesday afternoon. A collision of the game’s dynamic duo seemed imminent.