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Hooks and Cuts: Tiger and Phil

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson
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If Sunday at Pebble Beach were a basketball game, Phil Mickelson was Blake Griffin. He absolutely hammered Tiger Woods with a full facial, see-it-20-times-on-the-highlights slam dunk.    

• After his third round, I interviewed Phil for a simple story on what he loves about the game, and here’s what he said: “I love the 16th hole at Cypress Point because of the way it brings nature and golf together. I love the 13th tee at Augusta because it’s quiet and secluded and it gives you a moment to gather your thoughts before you play the critical six-hole stretch that hopefully leads to a green jacket. I love everything about the game of golf. I love the serenity it gives me, the work ethic it promotes. I love growing up on the golf course, the friendships that are made, the mental and physical challenges, I love everything about it.”  As he waited to hit his third shot to 18 on Sunday, the CBS cameras zoomed tight on Phil with a satisfied smile, staring at the Pacific – it was the picture of a man very much in love with golf. Shooting 64 at Pebble will make a man fall head over heels.

• It was nice to put parity aside for a week and lock in on two huge stars. It would be nice if we could get the best together more than a half-dozen times a year.

• After his third round, I asked Tiger what he loves about the game, and here’s what he said: “I love to learn. I love to compete. I love to win.”  

• Phil, Luke Donald and Adam Scott headline at Riviera this week with a new second tee and re-done fifth green. Rivi’s listening to the U.S. Golf Association in the run-up to a potential 2017 U.S. Amateur, hoping to land a U.S. Open in 2021 or ’22. There’s even talk of a water feature at the eighth. As for the issue of the tiny driving range, one plan is to shuttle players from Brentwood Country Club’s practice area five minutes away. Parking and tepid support from L.A. sports fans are other obstacles to a future Open.

• Tiger was on Forbes’ list of most disliked athletes. Based on the huge crowds that followed him every day at Pebble, and everywhere he plays for that matter, seems to me he’s hated like cheeseburgers.

• Butch told me during the Waste Management event in Scottsdale that he just wanted Phil “to not swing out of his shoes,” to dial it back. Sunday at Pebble, Phil’s feet were definitely on the ground. Controlling his driver and putting with supreme confidence, he delivered a breathtaking performance that truly reinforced his standing as an all-time great. 

• On the subject of feet, Tiger’s shoes may be comfortable, but they look like the walking shoes worn by an old-timer I once knew by the name of Mortie Waxman. He sold carpeting and carried a 25 handicap.

• Phil’s haymaker at 12, on top of Tiger’s bunker blast, is an early front-runner for putt of the year. Since Y.E. Yang, guys actually punch back now. It’s shaken Tiger a bit.

• Every time Tiger plays feels like a heavyweight fight that totally consumes the week with pre-tournament analysis and press conferences, followed by five hours of play for four days with another hour in front and another behind the round. This has been going on for 15 years and will for another 20. When it’s done he will have given us this 30-to-40-year experience. That’s more than Michael Jordan, more than Muhammad Ali. It’s more like a New York Yankee’s experience where for most of your adult life you follow the team, rooting for or against them. Tiger never stops being an icon, a controversial figure and a measuring stick. This latest setback is only a page in a 40-year book.

• Riviera is great in part because of the iconic holes like No. 4 – which Ben Hogan called the best par 3 in America – and No. 10, arguably the best short par 4. The course is awesome because of where it sits, down in a bowl, with the city above and no activity from the time you tee off No. 1 until you walk the hill above 18. It’s significant because of the majors won and lost there, and because of the cool trees that frame the course.

• Winning’s tough, for Kyle Stanley, for Spencer Levin, for Charlie Wi, and now, for Tiger Woods. He’s close to winning, but far from where he once was.