Mickelson-Woods rivalry to be renewed

On Wednesday night it was announced that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, two of the most successful golfers of the modern era, will face off on Thanksgiving Day, in Las Vegas. The winner walks away with $9 million. Gregor Kerr looks at the renewal of modern golf’s greatest rivalry.

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On Wednesday (22nd August) it was announced that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, with 19 major titles shared between them, will go head-to-head in Las Vegas over 18 holes on Thanksgiving weekend later this year, live on per-pay-view.

A grand prize of $9 million, more than golf’s four majors combined, will be up for grabs for the eventual winner. Woods confirmed ‘The Match’ would go ahead on Twitter, taking place at Shadow Creek Golf Course on the weekend of 23/24 November.

Both former Ryder Cup teammates, Woods’s has 14 majors to his name, Mickelson with five, the most recent being the latter’s Open Championship win in 2013. The meeting had been in discussions since early in the summer.

In the time period in which we had rivalries such as Arsenal vs Manchester United, Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal, LA Lakers vs San Antonio Spurs, golf had their two perfect clashes.

Mickelson the outgoing, adventurous man of the people, an entertainer. Woods the stony winner, with little emotion conveyed on a steely face, the fans an afterthought most of the time.

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The two still remain as some of the sport’s biggest attractions, although their path rarely crosses in the same manner as fifteen or so years ago.

On 35 occasions the two have been paired together, with nine of those meetings coming in the final round. Overall Tiger leads in all-time meetings 16-15-4.

The last meeting came in 2012 when ‘Lefty’ came out on top at the , AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, shooting 64 to leave his rival trailing by a sizeable 11 strokes.

It can be easy to forget that Mickelson actually entered the PGA Tour first in 1993. By 1996 he had racked up seven victories on tour but the majors proved allusive.

That year, a newcomer named Eldrick “Tiger” Woods entered the stage and overtook Mickelson with victory at The Masters months later. Despite the good work build up by Mickelson, a younger player had fast-tracked him and taken over. The dominance continued through the rest of the 90s.

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At the start of the millennium Woods proved unchallenged, his partnership with world-renowned coach Butch Harmon leading to seven majors in four years between 1999 and 2003, during which Mickelson stood on the periphery of major victory.

However, it changed when Mickelson of all people ended Woods’ run of six consecutive PGA Tour wins, with victory at the Buick Invitational in 2000. Three more tour victories followed that season, concluding with two-stroke victory over none other than Tiger himself.

Mickelson however continued to fall short at the big hurdle, namely the Masters where he finished in third position in 2000 and 2001. No prizes for guessing the winner those years.

The frustration would have been immense for Mickelson. For years he sat in number two in the world rankings, behind Woods. However, the gap from Tiger to Mickelson was 6.51 points. For comparison, the gap today between first and second is 0.2 points.

Mickelson came his closest in 2001, trailing Tiger by one shot on the final day at Augusta, but finished three behind Woods who completed his “Tiger Slam”, holding all four majors at once.

Mickelson finally got his own back in 2004, as “the greatest player to never win a major” finally did just that at Augusta. With Tiger way back tied for 22nd, a birdie at the 18th ensured a one shot lead ahead of Ernie Els. Most fittingly of all, it was Mickelson’s rival who had to formerly pass over the famous green jacket on live television.

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As oppose to writing the final chapter in this rivalry, the win only stoked Woods’ flames and made him hungrier to win again, as he did the following year.

At the Ryder Cup later in 2004, their situation seemed to come to a head whilst on the same side for once. The two of them being in the same room was unlikely to be healthy and provide a team environment,

U.S. captain Hal Sutton actually went as far as to partner them together in the opening game at Oakland Hills. On paper, a partnership of the two finest players in world golf sounds like a winner. The actual result was disastrous.

In both the morning and evening matches on the opening Friday, they lost to the Europeans. Throughout their rounds they looked uncomfortably to be in one another’s company.

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They barely spoke a word to each other, a word of encouragement, of advice, criticism or an ease of nerves. Just two days notice of their tandem left no room to practice and gel together, not that it would have made much difference.

Despite the rift between the two in the early stages of their career, Woods insisted earlier this year that the two had grown closer over time. “Phil was trying to help me out when I was trying to make a comeback.”

“We’ve had a great 20-year battle and we’re at the tail-end of our careers, and our friendship has grown stronger over the years.”

The enormous prize money that will be pooled in is on another level to money in the sport. Had their eventual face-off occurred fifteen years previous then perhaps we would be looking at a bigger money pool.

 

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