Tiger, Phil in same group at THE PLAYERS recalls memories of 2001
May 08, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- Woods and Mickelson have gone head-to-head 35 times, with Woods carding the better score 16 times, Mickelson prevailing 15 times, and the two battling to a tie four times. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – It’s been a while.
The last time Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were in the same group at THE PLAYERS Championship was the third round in 2001, when Woods made his “better-than-most” putt at No. 17 on the way to victory. He would win his first of two PLAYERS trophies the next day, and the Masters two weeks later to hold all four professional major championship titles at once.
“It was the most remarkable golf in the history of the game,” Mickelson said Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass, where he will play with Woods and Rickie Fowler on Thursday and Friday.
This week’s PLAYERS features 50 of the top 50 players in the FedExCup, and the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. There are 10 past champions in the field, and 20 first-time participants, and the winner could come from any of the 48 threesomes and 144 total players.
Still, all eyes will be on past champions Fowler (2015), Mickelson (2007), and Woods (2001, 2013), who will tee off the first hole at 1:52 p.m. ET Thursday, and the 10th at 8:27 a.m. Friday.
“This is just a dream pairing,” the Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo said.
Woods and Mickelson, together again.
“Phil and I have a great banter,” Woods said Tuesday. “We give each other needle. We always have. But I think our relationship has certainly gotten a lot closer with me being a [Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup] vice-captain the last couple teams, and sitting there and having very lengthy conversations with him about things. Not just the pairings, but just about things in general.”
According to ShotLink, Woods and Mickelson have gone head-to-head 35 times, with Woods carding the better score 16 times, Mickelson prevailing 15 times, and the two battling to a tie four times. They have 122 TOUR wins between them. For years, as Nos. 1 and 2 in the world they played on opposite sides of the draw for the first two rounds, seeing each other only on the weekends. Not this week.
“I don’t know how it’s going to play out,” Mickelson said, “but I just know that we seem to be bringing out the best in each other.”
Added Woods: “He's one hell of a competitor, and it’s always going to be a challenge to try and beat him.”
We’ve seen this show before, and it never gets old.
Has Fowler heard the stories? Absolutely, and so have Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, who also hadn’t started high school or even middle school during the peak Tiger era.
“I haven’t even had to ask,” Spieth said. “People, in conversation with other people, players with other players, it’s come out dozens of times how dominant he was, how good he was.”
You can hear that kind of talk in any sports bar about any legend, but golf and this PLAYERS offers a twist. Yes, Woods was good. He also IS good. At 42, he’s playing a full schedule for the first time in years after successful back fusion surgery. His high point was a runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship earlier this season, and he’s 54th in the FedExCup.
“I didn’t know what to expect this year,” he said. “I’m just so thankful to be able to have this opportunity again, because I didn’t know if I’d be able to have it.”
Mickelson, 47, won the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship in March, ending a nearly five-year drought. He comes here on the heels of a T5 at the Wells Fargo Championship, his sixth top-10 this season, one more than all of last year, and is third in the FedExCup.
“I love that we’re paired together,” Mickelson said. “… 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-stakes, winner-take-all match?
“Now,” Mickelson continued, “I don't know if he wants a piece of me (laughter), but I just think it would be something that would be really fun for us to do, and I think there would be a lot of interest in it if we just went straight to the final round.”
Told of Mickelson’s early trash talk, Woods smiled and shook his head and urged people to remember the big picture, as in which player has 79 TOUR wins and 14 majors. The fact remains, though: Woods-Mickelson is still appointment viewing.
“Oh, yeah,” Justin Thomas said. “Yeah, I’ll definitely—I play early Thursday, so I’ll probably be in the couch in my hotel room, watching that one in the afternoon.”
Fowler said “I’ve got the best seat in the house” for Woods-Mickelson.
Just how good was Woods? For those who weren’t there, Mickelson said, it’s hard to explain.
Woods won 14 times in 2000 and 2001. Mickelson, who racked up six victories in that stretch, said the low point, or high point, was the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where Woods shot 12 under and prevailed by a major championship record 15 shots. A month later he won the Open Championship by eight, becoming the youngest to complete the career Grand Slam at 24.
“It sucked to have to play against him,” Mickelson said. “It really did. You look at it, and you say, how are you going -- how am I going to beat this? You know, there was a stretch there of a number of years that it was so impressive that it was hard to imagine that it was actually happening, that he was hitting some of the shots that he was hitting and playing that well.”
Woods sometimes allows his thoughts to drift to that golden era.
“I had all four major championships,” he said. “I had THE PLAYERS, I had two World Golf Championships, and all the biggest events I had won at the same time. To hold all those events concurrently was special. I mean, I played well, I thought well, I putted well.”
Not surprisingly, his legend follows him even today. That he will be with Mickelson at THE PLAYERS will only add to the excitement. Fowler says he’ll try and putt out first, when he can, to avoid potential distractions. As for the level of excellence Woods reached when he set or tied 27 TOUR records in 2000, and when he owned nearly every important title in golf in 2001, Fowler can only listen to the stories and shake his head. The same goes for Spieth and Thomas.
“The guys today look back, and they say, come on, how much better could he have been and so forth,” Mickelson said, “and it just goes to show you that they weren't there to witness it.”
When Woods and Mickelson go head-to-head this week, with Fowler rounding out the super-group, we’ll all be a witness. As threesomes go, you’d have to say it’s better than most.