by Jeff Skinner
With Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods playing together in the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am fans were treated to what has been the marquee matchup of professional golf for over a decade. Phil versus Tiger draws us in like nothing else.
Each time these two face off the expectation of a classic, memorable battle is overwhelming. Yesterday was no different. With the both of them near the lead at historic Pebble Beach and the very real chance of the leader coming back to them the stage was set for a clash of titans.
These two have some history between them. Tiger has dominated golf like no other player in generations. When he played he won, tournaments by the dozen and majors by the handful. He conquered golfers and courses alike, setting records at a pace never imagined. But during his historic reign Woods never endeared himself to anyone that wasn’t on his payroll. He was a winning machine. An automaton that cranked out birdies, crushed opponents and collected championships. All the while acting like it hurt to smile and treating those around him with a brusque disdain.
In this shootout Woods wore the black hat. Even though he was, and still is the golfer most like to see it isn’t because he is loved, or even liked. He captivated us with his skills, his dominance and his ability to seemingly win by sheer force of will.
Since Woods has returned from his health and personal issues he has done nothing to change his previous persona. Now, Tiger fans keep watching to see when he will find his game and cheer him on while others hope he fails to ever become the player he was.
Phil Mickelson is just the opposite of Tiger on the course. While Woods found it difficult to smile during a round Phil finds it hard to stop smiling. It doesn’t matter if he is in the lead or at the back of the pack, Phil is having a good time. He isn’t afraid to smile or interact with the fans nor is he shy with the souvenir balls or the thumbs up. Birdie or bogey or worse, Phil takes it all in stride and never lets it affect how he treats people.
Even though Phil wears black on Sunday he has worn the white hat in this drama for a long time. There’s no two ways about it, Phil has a knack for dealing with the fans and the press that Woods refuses to attempt. Phil is open, honest and considerate to all those around him. It is this genuineness, this humanity that Phil displays which makes him so easy to support.
Recently Phil has had the best of Tiger beating him the last five times they were paired together in the final round. But this rivalry, a one way rivalry for years, can be not defined just by wins and losses.
The way these two players conduct themselves couldn’t be more different. Sunday’s final round conclusion is as perfect an example as there ever was. After both holed out on eighteen and Tiger had the look of a beaten man we all waited to see if he would pull his selfish act of refusing a post round interview. To his credit he didn’t and gave a few minutes to the press. But that is what Woods has conditioned us to think: that he may or may not decide to be accommodating.
We all knew what to expect from Phil: after a few minutes saying how awesome it was to win at Pebble Beach he walked to the back of the green and hugged his wife. It’s always that way when Amy can be there, win or lose.
Phil and Tiger will go down in golf history forever linked to one another. They will continue to battle each other and probably write a few more chapters to their story but one thing won’t ever change. They are two entirely different personalities. One will go down as the best golfer of his generation. The other as the most loved.