Point-counterpoint: Tiger and Phil in 2014
January 21, 2014
By Helen Ross, Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will seek another win at Torrey Pines this week. (Rogash/Getty Images)
For the first time in the 2013-14 season, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will be teeing off in the same PGA TOUR event when Thursday's first round begins at the Farmers Insurance Open.
For Woods, it's his season debut, while Mickelson is making his third TOUR start of the year.
We've taken a look at the Torrey Pines Tale of the Tape for both players. Now we're letting two of our staff writers go head-to-head.
Brian Wacker argues that 2013-14 will be the season of Tiger. Helen Ross argues that 2013-14 will be the season of Phil.
2013-14 will be the Season of Tiger 2013-14 will be the Season of Phil
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
Did someone forget that Tiger Woods won five times last year, including two prestigious tournaments, THE PLAYERS Championship and the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational?
That was more than twice as much as anyone else, including reigning FedExCup champion Henrik Stenson, and it is why Woods was named Player of the Year. Again.
While it is true that the depth on the PGA TOUR is deeper than it has ever been (and therefore more difficult for Woods -- or anyone else -- to win), the fact remains that Woods is still the best in the game when he is at his best. Woods might not be at his best the way he was from, say, 1999-2009, but he is still far more consistent than Phil Mickelson.
In 16 starts, Woods finished in the top 10 eight times. He didn’t miss a cut and didn’t have a WD. Mickelson? Seven top 10s, including two wins, in 21 starts but also missed three cuts.
One could argue Mickelson is playing the best golf of his life right now. But what if Woods didn’t hit the flagstick on the 15th hole at Augusta National last year? What would the conversation have been then?
I’m usually not into “what ifs” but no one can deny that Woods was in contention at two majors and had a better overall season on paper than Mickelson.
Here are three main reasons why I think that will be the case again this year.
Schedule: Woods rarely makes changes to his rotation and therein lies the secret. He knows where he can play well and that's where he plays.The formula has worked to the tune of 79 wins on TOUR. He’ll be in contention at Torrey Pines, Doral, Bay Hill, Augusta National, Firestone, etc.
Major venues: While Woods has admitted that a 15th career major championship has been the most difficult to win, no other year since his 2008 U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines has set up better than this one does. Augusta is Augusta and he is almost always in the mix there. The last time the U.S. Open was at Pinehurst, Woods finished second. The last time the Open Championship was at Hoylake, he annihilated the place. The PGA Championship is at Valhalla, and Woods has won there, too.
The Foley factor: Another year under his belt with instructor Sean Foley, Woods is that much more comfortable with the changes that have been implemented with his swing. Likewise, another offseason to work on some of the issues that plagued him last year (mostly short game, sometimes ball-striking, sometimes driving), Woods should be at least slightly better than last year, which was already better than most.
Tiger Woods tees off at 1:40 p.m. ET on the first tee at Torrey Pines' South Course in Thursday's first round of the Farmers Insurance Open.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
It's mid-January but the Phil Mickelson we all know and love already has emerged.
He was tied for the lead when he found his ball under a bush at the 13th hole in the Abu Dhabi desert on Sunday and Mickelson, surpising no one, opted to play it out right-handed. Problem was, that daredevil Lefty ended up hitting the ball twice -- counting both, of course, as well as the one-stroke penalty -- and he finished one shot behind Pablo Larrazabal when the final tally was made that afternoon.
It wasn't the first time a questionable decision cost Mickelson, who rebounded with birdies on two of his next three holes and could have forced a playoff with an eagle at the 18th hole. Even so, a runner-up finish isn't a bad start to 2014. What will Phil (i.e., The Thrill) do next, though?
Well, there will undoubtedly be other costly gambles and successful gambits this season but those could pave the way for a wildly successful campaign. And what better place to launch it than before a home crowd this week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson has won three times.
Look for a fast start -- 19 of his 42 victories have come on the West Coast and 27 of those wins notched by the time the Masters is over in April.
Still, Mickelson needs the kind of strong finish to the year he couldn't put together in 2013 after winning the third leg of the career Grand Slam at Muirfield put him in position to win the FedExCup and Player of the Year.
He's excited about his new Callaway Alpha driver, and Mickelson normally plays his best when he's got a new toy or is seeing the rewards of tinkering with his game. He's energized by the chase and there are still things in his World Golf Hall of Fame career that Mickelson has yet to accomplish.
At 43, Mickelson's window of opportunity is hardly shut but it's certainly narrowing. He has a score to settle with the U.S. Open and another chance at Pinehurst, where his first of six runner-up finishes was posted in 1999.
The most recent -- and one of the most wrenching -- came a year ago at Merion as Mickelson bogeyed three of his last six holes to finish runner-up to Justin Rose after holding at least a share of the lead in the first three rounds. But Mickelson showed enormous resliency the following month in the UK, winning both the Scottish Open and Open Championship in consecutive weeks.
Adding the final of the game's crown jewels to his trophy case would in itself make 2014 a rousing success. Winning at Pinehurst would produce a lot of Phil-comes-full-circle stories. But Mickelson made it clear late last year that he was looking for more.
And this is the year Mickelson could get it.
Phil Mickelson tees off at 12:30 p.m. ET on the 10th tee at Torrey Pines' North Course in Thursday's first round of the Farmers Insurance Open.