PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Time, it softens arduous edges and thaws icy relationships. Tiger Woods is 42 years previous, Phil Mickelson 47. They are on the again nines of their Hall of Fame careers.
They are additionally having fun with one another greater than ever.
“I love that we’re paired together,” Mickelson stated Tuesday from the Players Championship, where he and Woods, along with Rickie Fowler, will be grouped for the first two rounds at TPC Sawgrass. “I think it’s really fun.”
“We don’t really do this very often, unfortunately,” he stated of taking part in with Lefty. “For me to be able to play with a person I’ve gone against for over two decades, it’s a lot of fun.”
Many in and across the Mickelson and Woods camps, together with the 2 males themselves, say the dynamic between them was by no means fairly as frosty because it was made out to be throughout their prime. That’s solely partially true.
For the higher a part of 20 years, Woods and Mickelson had been the face of golf. With no disrespect to the opposite actors — Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, David Duval — they had been bit gamers in this drama. No one loomed as massive as Mickelson in phrases of character, resume and expertise.
When Woods turned professional in 1996, the elder Mickelson had already gained 9 instances on the PGA Tour. He’d additionally stated in so many phrases that Woods wouldn’t dominate the way in which he had as an newbie. Incendiary feedback they weren’t, but it surely angered Woods anyway, in line with one insider. Others say that Tiger additionally seen Mickelson as the most important risk to his throne and that solely fueled the animus.
There had been different moments, too. Like Mickelson’s notorious line in a 2003 journal interview about Tiger utilizing “inferior” tools, and the attention roll from Woods after Mickelson went OB throughout an ill-fated four-ball pairing by Captain Hal Sutton in the opening session of the 2004 Ryder Cup. Another insider informed of an off-color joke about Mickelson that Woods had gotten caught telling. And in 2007, Mickelson started working with swing coach Butch Harmon, who had labored with Woods early in his profession. Mickelson went on to win the Players shortly thereafter.
And on it went.
On went Woods, too, racking up titles and setting data. But the 2 hardly ever went face to face. On the uncommon events they did, Woods outplayed Mickelson most of the time, particularly in the start. It was one thing Tiger took specific enjoyment in.
Of these duels, none was extra memorable than their 2005 final-round showdown at Doral. Mickelson was coming off his finest season, which included a breakthrough on the Masters, and he had arrived in type. Woods, in the meantime, had spent a yr overhauling his swing with Hank Haney and hadn’t gained a serious for the reason that 2002 U.S. Open. Mickelson had a two-stroke lead going into the final day however Woods shot 66 to Mickelson’s 69 to win by one.
It hasn’t at all times gone Woods’ manner, although, particularly in more moderen instances.
In 2012, Mickelson shot a final-round 64 to mud Woods by 11 pictures on his solution to profitable the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. In their most up-to-date pairing, in the primary two rounds of the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, Mickelson was a dozen strokes higher.
Of the 35 instances Mickelson and Woods have performed together, nevertheless, their scoring averages are remarkably shut — Woods 69.93, Mickelson 70.06 — and Woods has shot the decrease rating 16 instances, simply as soon as greater than Mickelson.
“We’ve always had a mutual respect over the years, and I’ve always appreciated what he’s done for the game of golf,” Mickelson stated Tuesday. “Fifteen years ago my record against him sucked, and now it’s OK. I’m doing better as time has gone on.”
So is the connection between the 2.
“I think [it] has certainly gotten a lot closer with me being a vice captain the last couple teams and sitting there and having very lengthy conversations with him about things,” Woods stated. “When I was trying to deal with the nerve in my back and trying to come back and trying to play and I wasn’t very good, he always texted me some very encouraging words.”
Among them, in line with Woods, had been chipping suggestions from Mickelson when Woods was coping with the yips in early 2015. Imagine that.
Then, at this yr’s Masters, the two played a practice round together for the primary time since 2001.
“Both are late in their careers and they’ve softened,” says Haney. “They’re both at different stages in life.”
Still, some issues by no means change.
“As I look at the cover of the newspaper and the pairing is on there and the excitement that’s been going on around here, it gets me thinking, why don’t we just bypass all the ancillary stuff of a tournament and just go head-to-head and just have kind of a high-stake, winner-take-all match?” Mickelson reasoned. “Now, I don’t know if he wants a piece of me, but I just think it would be something that would be really fun for us to do.”
“I’m definitely not against that,” he stated. “We’ll play for whatever makes him uncomfortable.”