The only difference on a drizzly Saturday in New England is the acute dichotomy between alpha and omega unfolded in real time and in Hi-Def quality – Tiger, almost clinical in his control, and Lefty, effortlessly sidestepping landmine after landmine, dueling on a stage decades in the making.
This wasn’t for a title. This wasn’t even for the lead. That honor went to Sergio Garcia who, for the record, was doing his best impersonation of both Mickelson and Woods with a solid ball-striking day and, wait for it, a solid putting effort.
No, this bout was simply a perfect representation of Woods and Mickelson’s history and there for the whole of Boston to see it.
On the par-4 ninth hole, which Lefty admits is not his cup of tea, Mickelson fanned his drive into the trees left of the fairway, some 80 yards from where his tee shot ended up in Round 1. He took a drop and dropped his third 9 feet from the pin to save par.
Woods, on the other hand, split the fairway at the ninth and roped his approach to 8 feet for a two-putt par.
At the 11th, the southpaw was lucky his tee shot stayed in Massachusetts and he feathered a flop shot to 2 feet that defied logic and the laws of physics.
Conversely, Woods carved his tee shot into the middle of the green and two-putted from 33 feet.
Both penciled par “3s” onto the card, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story.
“That’s artistry,” gushed Roger Maltbie, Golf Channel’s on-course reporter with the group, after Mickelson’s par saver at the 11th.
Even Woods, normally aloof when it comes to all things Mickelson, joked with Lefty as the two headed down the 12th fairway. Whatever the duo’s relationship status, the world No. 1 can appreciate a good show.
“Bones (Jim Mackay, Mickelson’s caddie) was telling us that it wasn’t that great a lie,” Woods said. “It was a decent lie, but to go ahead and try to play that shot with that much speed and he didn’t have a whole lot of room up there. But he pulled it off.”
The scene continued for two more holes – a drive left at the 12th that Mickelson converted to a par, right at the 13th for the same result. The magic seemed to run dry at the 14th when Lefty missed the green right and made bogey. When Mickelson bounced his tee shot off the rocks at the par-3 16th for double bogey it seemed as if the wheels had good and truly fallen off.
But Mickelson recovered with birdies at his two closing holes for an even-par 71. By comparison, Woods missed just two greens in regulation, took 29 putts and carded a 67.
When the dust and flop shots settled, Mickelson completed his first two loops in 8 under, a shot clear of Woods, who rolled in his longest putt of the week (35 feet) at the last.
Neither sounded like he was ready to pack it in at the Deutsche Bank Championship, but those who read body language for a living would note a distinct spring in Lefty’s step as he bolted TPC Boston.
“Sometimes when you lose it, I could easily have shot myself out of the tournament. I shot even par today,” Mickelson said. “If I go on and play the way I believe I’m going to this weekend I’m going to look back at those nine holes as the key to the entire tournament.”
Let the record show Woods ranks fifth in greens in regulation, 45th in driving accuracy and 39th in total putts; Lefty is 56th, 30th and third, respectively. Two distinct ways to build the proverbial piano, two very distinct personalities, two not-so-surprising outcomes through 36 holes.
“I hit it better today,” Woods figured. “I had a few looks. I had a couple of weird bonces out there, but overall it was a good enough day.”
For Mickelson, Saturday was as good as it gets.
The new and improved Lefty may relish the notion of selective aggressiveness and the subdued nuances of the Phranken-wood, but he will never be systematic like the guy in the red shirt. It’s not in his DNA, and, by the by, it's why the game’s “Big Two” are so polarizing.
Woods, who in his five victories this season has won by an average of three strokes, beats fields into submission; while Lefty lives and dies on the high wire. The same guy who roped a 6-iron between the pines on his way to victory at the 2010 Masters blew the 2006 U.S. Open with one too many loose swings.
That difference, that dichotomy, was on full display Saturday afternoon at TPC Boston – Phil the magician vs. Tiger the machine. Just as it’s always been.