Two rounds of silent treatment
Adversaries Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are paired for the early rounds of the PGA Championship.
By BOB HARIG
Published August 16, 2006
MEDINAH, Ill. - There is a theory that it can't be a rivalry unless they duel down the stretch, head to head, in a major championship. Or that they each must have a measure of success and failure at the other's expense.
But in the case of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, there is so much more to it than that.
The two players who sit at the top of the world rankings, both with a major championship this year and three wins of the past 11 tournaments, are undoubtedly adversaries despite their attempts to downplay such talk.
Geoff Ogilvy will be among the curious observers when Woods and Mickelson begin play Thursday morning in the 88th PGA Championship.
Ogilvy, the U.S. Open champion, will have a front-row seat, getting to play in the same group with Mickelson, the winner of the Masters, and Woods, who won the British Open.
The PGA traditionally pairs the major winners for the first two rounds.
"It'll be interesting to see how they get along with each other," Ogilvy said Tuesday at Medinah Country Club, adding that he was quite aware the two are not best buddies.
"I don't know when it started, but was it that Ryder Cup pairing a few years ago? That probably set it more in motion than it was," Ogilvy said. "They didn't appear to be best friends that day. They walked on the first tee, and they were on both sides of the tee. They don't play practice rounds together. It'll be interesting to see."
For all their history, it has been five years since Woods and Mickelson even played together during a major championship. They were paired in the final round of the 2001 Masters, where Woods had a one-shot lead and went on to win his fourth consecutive major.
The last time they were paired together on a Sunday was at the 2005 Ford Championship at Doral. It turned into one of the best tournaments of the year, as Woods overcame a two-shot deficit, shooting 66 to win by one.
Two years prior, they were paired in the final round at the Buick Invitational, where Woods led by two, shot 68 and defeated Mickelson by six strokes.
That tournament came soon after Mickelson said Woods played with "inferior equipment." Although the comments irritated Woods, they were not necessarily wrong; Woods was not utilizing the best technology at the time.
But nothing quite compares to their pairing at the 2004 Ryder Cup. U.S. captain Hal Sutton put them out as teammates, and the move flopped. Woods and Mickelson lost a best-ball match to Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington in the morning, then were defeated in an afternoon alternate-shot match by Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood.
No words were necessary, only the look on Woods' face when he saw Mickelson's wayward tee shot at the 18th hole - the one he would have to play in alternate shot. Needless to say, they weren't paired together again, not even at last year's Presidents Cup.
And it isn't likely there will be much chatter between them Thursday morning when they begin play at 9:30.
"Phil and I are competitors," Woods said. "We've gotten to know each other over the years by being on Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. And we're fine. (But) it's a major championship, and I don't really talk a whole lot in major championships. I'm out there trying to put my ball where I need to put it. I stay in my own little world and try to handle my own business. I've played with some of my best friends, played with Marko (Mark O'Meara) in a major before and don't say a word to him all day. That's just the way it is. I'm trying to win this golf tournament."
Woods might not be friendly with Mickelson, but he has come to appreciate Lefty since he was able to break through and win three major championships, starting with the 2004 Masters.
And he thought it was a nice touch that Mickelson mentioned Woods' ailing father, Earl, moments after Woods put the green jacket over his shoulders at Augusta during the victory speech. A month later, Earl Woods died.
But these are golfers in their prime at the top of their games. Even their heated pingpong matches while Presidents Cup teammates is not going to change that.
"They don't have a relationship; they don't even know each other," CBS-TV analyst David Feherty said. "They have the same relationship that (Jack) Nicklaus and (Arnold) Palmer had back in the early '60s. Nicklaus and Palmer are now great friends. But they needed to almost finish their playing careers before that happened.
"Tiger and Phil can't afford to know each other. You can go through the social niceties, but when you compete at the highest level against someone in any sport, you can't be friends. It's like two magnets. You're going to repel each other."
The Nicklaus-Palmer analogy fits, too, in that Woods, like the Golden Bear, stalks greatness in an almost cold, calculated manner, while Mickelson, like Arnie, does so boldly, although it sometimes backfires.
The difference, of course, is that this rivalry lacks a defining showdown. Nicklaus and Palmer squared off in a U.S. Open playoff in 1962, then were both factors in majors for the next decade.
For that to happen here, Woods and Mickelson would have to be paired on Sunday.
And nobody expects them to be talking then.