Tiger, Phil continue to push each other
The two superstars are in the field this week at the Genesis Open after coming off recent wins
February 13, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Tiger Woods on Mickelson before Genesis Open
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – If Tiger Woods breaks through to finally win at Riviera Country Club, he might owe a small part of it to Phil Mickelson.
For decades on the PGA TOUR, Woods and Mickelson have driven each other to great heights.
Call it a rivalry or don’t – but the fact is Woods loves to beat his fellow Californian and Mickelson wants nothing more than to beat Woods.
And having Mickelson win last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am might be the extra boost Woods needs at the venue he made his PGA TOUR debut as a 16-year-old but has yet to tame.
Woods hosts the Genesis Open these days, but it is Mickelson who has two titles here.
In fact, Woods was part of an announcement Wednesday that will see the event become elevated in status from next season on, becoming his own invitational much like the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and Jack Nicklaus’ the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
Despite seven top-20 results, three of them top 10s, Woods has never won at Riviera Country Club. He’d love to rectify that before his place in the field becomes less competitive and more ceremonial.
“It is certainly a love-hate relationship (with Riviera),” Woods said.
“I love playing this golf course. I always have, I enjoyed playing up here when I was young with my dad. For some reason I've only played well here one time in the tournament.
“It's just one of those courses that you have to hit the golf ball well. There's no faking it around this golf course, especially if the greens are up to speed like they are right now. It puts such a premium on putting the golf ball in play and hitting the ball high.
“You've got to hit the ball high into any of these greens and really control your spin and put the ball in the right spots because getting up and down here, as we've all seen, kikuyu grass is not easy to do. It's sticky, catches a lot, and now with it wet, some of the bump and runs are actually skipping so that makes an added little challenge.”
Woods feels up to that challenge. And Mickelson’s win last week lights the fire again.
“It has always pushed me,” Woods admitted of Phil’s success.
“Each win by the other person always motivated the other.
“My entire career, Phil will probably attest to this, we've always looked at the board to figure out where one another's at. So we've always had that type of enjoyment of competing against one another.
“And to see what he did last year in Mexico at 47 years old gave me confidence that I could somehow do it last year, and I was able to finally end my season with a win.”
Woods has 80 PGA TOUR wins in his glittering career, just two short of Sam Snead’s record.
In that context Mickelson’s 44 wins can sometimes lose some luster… but it shouldn’t.
Consider the fact Mickelson won his events inside the time of Tiger’s dominance and sits ninth on the all-time win list (He had nine wins before Woods won his first, having started on TOUR four years earlier).
Tiger Woods talks about Riviera before Genesis Open
The now 48-year-old’s win last week moves him just one behind Walter Hagen (45) with just Billy Casper (51), Byron Nelson (52), Arnold Palmer (62), Ben Hogan (64), Jack Nicklaus (73), Woods (80) and Snead (82) above him.
As the youth brigade continues to excite the PGA TOUR, these old guys are proof you don’t have to fade away post 40. Woods proved he still has what it takes when winning the TOUR Championship last year.
“It just shows how incredible they are. In their 40s and they're still winning, and you've got a bunch of 20-year-olds out here that are now winning events. It just shows their golf games have stood the test of time,” five-time winner Bryson DeChambeau says.
“Because of that, I have an incredible amount of respect for both of them, a level that I can't even express through words.”
After his second title inside 12 months, Mickelson revealed the reasons why he believed he was able to capture success again.
While generally always competitive, the veteran had failed to win after his 2013 Open Championship triumph until February last year.
Most figured his time might be up, but Mickelson rededicated himself to hard work in specific areas.
“Historically guys when they get in their 40s two things decline, their putting and their swing speed,” Mickelson said after his win.
“My putting has increased in the last three years and the best it's been in my 25-, 28-year career, and my swing speed is as fast as it's ever been.”
Mickelson ranked ninth in Strokes Gained: Putting in the 2015-16 season and was 13th last season.
Two years ago, he ranked 91st in clubhead speed at 114.24 mph. Last year, he was 54th in 116.49.
He arrives at Riviera ranked 17th at 120.92.
“For him to… trust me, I recognize this, it's not easy to pick up clubhead speed, which he has done, as he's gotten older. That's been extraordinary. That's what's allowed him to stay out here with some of these longer guys, he's been able to hit the ball further,” Woods marveled.
Mickelson said it was the benefit of nine months of hard work with biometric swing studies and time in the gym.
Woods is a marvel himself, coming back from back fusion surgery to average 120.24 mph swing speed last season (ranked 17th).
If he can also remain healthy then we can all be optimistic of highlight reels being filled for some time to come.
And while the pair is certainly on the back nine of their careers, here’s hoping we can get a few old-fashioned duels before it’s over.
There’s no better time to start than this week.