Woods-Mickelson Masters rivalry hasn't materialized

By Joe PosnanskiApril 12, 2014, 12:51 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – You would think that a rivalry would be simple math. 

(Great player + Great player) x (Shared years) = Rivalry.

But rivalries don’t work that way. There is some calculus in there, some strange X factor involving timing and rapport and styles and the way talents bounce off talents. It seems almost impossible that a real rivalry between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson never developed at Augusta. But it never did. And, more and more, it looks like it never will.

This Masters, for the first time in 20 years, will not feature either Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson on the weekend. Woods, of course, could not play in the tournament because of a back injury that was probably talked about more in Augusta the first two days than any player. Nobody knows when Woods will be return – rumors fluctuate from a stunning recovery in time for the U.S. Open to him missing the whole golf season. Either way, back injuries are not good.

Then Phil Mickelson missed the cut for the first time since 1997 – which just so happened to be the tournament Tiger Woods won, changing golf. He shot 5 over over two days, one shot off the cut line.

“I didn’t play great,” Mickelson would say, “I didn’t play bad. I just had one bad hole there at 12.”


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Yeah, that was a bad hole. Mickelson hit his tee shot into the front bunker. He hit his second shot into the back bunker. He hit his third shot BACK into the front bunker. He hit his fourth shot on the green (“I found grass,” he said) and two putts later he finished off the rare triple bogey at the famous No. 12 without even hitting the ball into the water.

But the point here is not Mickelson’s two triple bogeys in two days (he shot 1 under on the other 34 holes) or that his Augusta magic seems to have dulled the last couple of years, but to lament that the Woods-Mickelson Masters rivalry that seemed so certain just never materialized. They have been the best two Masters players of their time. Combined they have won seven of the last 17 Masters.

And yet they never really had a showdown, never really had an Augusta duel, never really had that moment where they were both at their best and both had a shot at the green jacket.

Seems so weird. But is it? What has made the greatest rivalries special – what made Bird-Magic, what made Chrissie-Martina, what made Wilt-Russell and Ali-Frazier and Watson-Nicklaus – were those great encounters, the Thrilla, the Duel in the Sun, the NBA Finals, the 1985 French Open. That’s when we could really see the best athletes’ greatness reflect off each other.

Tiger’s and Phil’s talents just didn’t reflect. On the surface, they had everything to set up for a beautiful feud. They both have loved the layout and history and feel of Augusta National. Tiger was a righty, Phil a lefty, Tiger fierce, Phil jocular, Tiger calculated and precise while Phil gambled away.  Story after story emerged that they didn’t like each other; that can add to the beautiful tension of a great rivalry. Everything set up.

But they just didn’t lift each other up the way real rivals do. When Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus had their famous match at the British Open at Turnberry in 1977 – for the last two rounds they were miles ahead of everyone else and traded great shots the way Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier traded hooks and crosses – they barely said a word to each other. But late in the final round, when the gallery was so charged with excitement, they had to stop for a moment.

“This is what it’s all about it, isn’t it?” Watson said.

“You bet it is,” Nicklaus replied.

And then they finished off with one of the greatest golf endings ever, Nicklaus making an impossible birdie on the 18th, Watson making his own birdie right over the top.

Mickelson and Woods just couldn’t inspire and motivate each other like that. Who can say why? Woods won back-to-back Masters in 2000 and 2001 and Mickelson finished third both years – but Mickelson never actually threatened to WIN those tournaments. That was in the days when Woods finished golf tournaments with the detached precision of a great heart surgeon.

And when Mickelson won his three Masters, Woods wasn’t ever really a threat – the closest he ever came was when he finished tied for third in 2006. Sometimes one was great, sometimes another, but they never shared the stratosphere. The two of them did make a little bit of a run at the 2008 Masters, but neither won, neither came close to winning.

Much of this was Tiger’s peculiar gift for winning major champions: His amazing game did not really leave much room for a rival. He has not yet come from behind on Sunday to win any major championship and, conversely, he has lost a lead on Sunday only once (Y.E. Yang came back to beat him in the 2009 PGA Championship).

So when you never blow a lead and never come from behind, that does tend to limit the possibilities of having a classic battle on Sunday. Woods has been so unique that, in the end, major championships have often been about him and him alone. Mickelson has always been more volatile and mercurial.

It’s all a little bit sad. I always wanted to see Woods and Mickelson battle for the end. But it hasn’t happened, and it obviously won’t happen this year, and while the end may not be here it does feel like the movie credits are beginning to roll. Woods is 38, closing fast on 39, and in the last few years he’s hurt his leg, his knee, his neck, his shoulder and his back. Mickelson turns 44 during the U.S. Open this year, and he does pharmaceutical commercials.

So it’s becoming increasingly likely that we will never see the two best golfers of this generation have their classic battle. We could look elsewhere. We could have a great battle this weekend between the last two Masters champions, Adam Scott (at 3 under now) and Bubba Watson (leading at 7 under), and that would be fun. Twenty-year-old Jordan Spieth is on the board and he’s a potentially fun rival for somebody older.

And there are a LOT of older guys still in the field including Larry Mize (55), Sandy Lyle (56), Bernhard Langer (56), Fred Couples (54), Vijay Singh (51) and Miguel Angel Jimenez (50). That’s six 50-somethings still playing in this tournament, a record, so there could be some old grudges played out.

But Woods-Mickelson just won’t happen. Again. The math just never worked out.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.


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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.