Woods-Mickelson Rivalry at a Crossroads
It included a certain Ryder Cup captain who only recognized the faces.
'I watched it from start to finish,' Hal Sutton said Tuesday. 'What part of my body wouldn't say, 'Where was this in September?' We all knew both were capable of that. I don't know why they didn't do it together.'
Six months ago at Oakland Hills was the only time Woods and Mickelson were partners, not rivals, although it was hard to tell the difference. They stood some 20 yards apart on the first tee for the opening game at the Ryder Cup and kept their distance while losing their first two matches.
As rivals at Doral, they were brilliant.
Both made 27 birdies over four rounds on the Blue Monster.
Woods took the lead with an eagle on the 603-yard 12th hole when he hit a 3-wood that carried 290 yards. Mickelson fired back with back-to-back birdies, starting with a 3-iron from 242 yards to within 8 feet. Back and forth they went before a delirious and evenly divided gallery.
Both players deny their relationship is icy at best. Mickelson said the partnership at Oakland Hills was 'not uncomfortable at all,' but it might have looked that way because they played poorly. Woods said it their relationship was overanalyzed. Johnny Miller finally chimed in, 'It'd be great if these guys answered the questions.'
They certainly can answer some questions in the next month.
This renewed rivalry is at a crossroads heading into the first major championship of the year.
Mickelson was so sure he was going to win that some might wonder how much the loss takes out of him. He all but deified Woods on the eve of the final round, then got a gleam in his eye as he talked about how much he was looking forward to taking him on.
As well as Mickelson played, the difference at Doral came down to him missing short putts down the stretch, something that has haunted him throughout his career. He called the loss a 'great slap in the face,' and said it would only make him work harder for their next battle, the sooner the better.
What to make of Woods?
The big picture is that he shot 63-66 to rally from five shots down against the hottest player in golf. Woods still hits shots no one else can. He was 44 yards longer than Mickelson on one tee shot, and Woods was a combined 330 yards longer than Mickelson on every tee shot but the par 3s.
He made clutch putts, as always, none bigger than the 30-foot birdie that gave him the lead on the 17th.
Still, Woods has not exactly slammed the door in his last two victories.
Last month at Torrey Pines, he boldly went for the par-5 18th green with only a one-shot lead, fanned a 2-iron and was fortunate it didn't go in the water. At Doral, with a chance to apply enormous pressure, Woods came out of a 7-iron and left himself a downhill putt from 55 feet.
There are times when Woods takes a half-dozen repeated practice swings on the tee, still trying to drill into his mind the mechanics of his new swing.
Woods has had a revolving door of rivals for the last six years, although this one is unrivaled.
Vijay Singh has performed better as a rival. He is the only player who has approached Woods' dominance in the last 10 years, and he took the No. 1 ranking away from him in a head-to-head battle outside Boston last year. Woods and Singh aren't chums, but the big Fijian is not a threat to take away Woods' adulation from the fans.
Ernie Els and Woods make the most natural rivalry. The Big Easy has finished second to Woods six times, more than any other player, and eight of his 15 victories on the PGA Tour have come with Woods in the field. But it is difficult for Woods to work up any animosity inside the ropes because Els is universally liked and respected.
That's not the case with Mickelson.
Woods' emotions at Doral spoke volumes about this rivalry. While it was a dramatic duel, there was one even better five years ago at Kapalua, where Woods and Els were Nos. 1 and 2 in the world and tied for the lead going into the final round of the Mercedes Championships.
The lead changed seven times, and no one ever led by more than one shot. Both made an eagle on the last hole to force a playoff. Both made birdie on the 18th to extend it. Woods finally won with a 40-foot birdie putt that had 6 feet of break, then he watched as Els' birdie putt from 35 feet stopped an inch short of the cup.
Woods was thrilled that afternoon on Maui.
He was relieved Sunday in Miami.
There was an uppercut fist pump when Woods made the eagle on No. 12. He pursed his lips and firmly squeezed the bill of his cap to acknowledge the masses as he walked briskly off the 17th green with a one-shot lead.
When Mickelson's 30-foot chip for birdie dipped in and out of the cup on the 18th, his reaction contained as much raw emotion as his 13-inch vertical leap when he captured the Masters.
Clearly, this was a battle both players desperately wanted to win.
How they respond could shape the season.
Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it
There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.
There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.
Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.
The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."
Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:
If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.
“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”
The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.
Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).
We followed our defending champion Toto Gana during his registration! He even did his Donald Duck impression!— LAAC (@LAAC_Golf) January 17, 2018
Acompañamos a Toto Gana, defensor del título, durante todo el proceso de acreditación. ¡Incluso imitó a Donald Duck!#LAAC2018 pic.twitter.com/NGh7hS4cCz
Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in
There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.
Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.
While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.
Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:
1. Brooks Koepka
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Patrick Reed
4. Justin Thomas
5. Jordan Spieth
6. Rickie Fowler
7. Bubba Watson
8. Webb Simpson
9. Bryson DeChambeau
10. Phil Mickelson
11. Matt Kuchar
12. Brian Harman
On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.
Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:
1. Tyrrell Hatton
2. Justin Rose
3. Tommy Fleetwood
4. Francesco Molinari
5. Thorbjorn Olesen
6. Ross Fisher
1. Jon Rahm
2. Rory McIlroy
3. Alex Noren
4. Matthew Fitzpatrick
5. Ian Poulter
6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello
Koepka autographs local kids' 'Go Brooks' sign after win
Brooks Koepka is a two-time U.S. Open winner, but that doesn't mean he's now too big to go sign a couple pieces of cardboard in somebody's front yard in the middle of the night.
Koepka's girlfriend, Jena Sims, posted two pictures to her Instagram story on Sunday of "Go Brooks" signs she says were put up by some local kids in the area where Koepka was staying for the week.
The first is dated prior to Koepka's final-round tee time.
The second is from Sunday night.
And here, separately, for no reason in particular (other than the fact that she posted it) is a video of Sims running over a parking cone at last year's U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
Speaking of kids, just feels those two are gonna make it.
Koepka moves to No. 4 in world with U.S. Open win
After successfully defending his U.S. Open title, Brooks Koepka reached a new career high in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Koepka held off Tommy Fleetwood to win by a shot Sunday at Shinnecock Hills, becoming the first player to go back-to-back in nearly 30 years. As a result, he jumped five spots in the latest rankings to No. 4, six spots higher than he reached with last year's U.S. Open victory at Erin Hills.
Fleetwood finished alone in second place and moved up two spots to No. 10, tying his career-best placement. Patrick Reed moved up two spots to No. 11 by finishing fourth, while fifth-place Tony Finau went from No. 37 to No. 31.
It was a largely quiet week in the rankings despite the fact that a major championship was contested. Outside of Koepka and Finau, the only other player inside the top 50 to move up or down more than three spots was Jason Dufner, who went from 53rd to 48th with a T-25 finish.
Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1 for the second consecutive week, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Koepka and Jordan Spieth. Jon Rahm dropped one spot to No. 6, with Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Fleetwood rounding out the top 10. Hideki Matsuyama fell two spots to No. 12, dropping out of the top 10 for the first time since October 2016.
Despite a missed cut at Shinnecock, Tiger Woods actually moved up one spot to No. 79 in the latest rankings. He plans to play the Quicken Loans National and The Open in the coming weeks, which will be his final two chances to move into the top 50 in time to qualify for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The event is being held for the final time this summer at Firestone Country Club, where Woods has won eight times.