Woods’ shadow still looms on Lefty

first_img Having completed his round before the weather hit, Tiger wasn’t on the course Monday, but was a presence as long as there was any chance Mickelson (4-under), Elkington and Bjorn (3-under) would let him into a playoff. Watching Mickelson walk the last five fairways Monday, you imagined Tiger to be the devil standing on Phil’s shoulder, whispering negative thoughts. For all the good that San Diego’s Mickelson has done, his record on occasions when he and Orange County’s Woods have come down the same homestretch is a nightmare. From the 2000 Masters to the 2005 Masters, they both finished in the top 10 in one of the four major events seven times. Woods won five of those tournaments, Mickelson none. Tiger’s victories included the 2001 and 2002 Masters (Phil was third each time) and the 2002 U.S. Open (Phil was second). When Phil scored his breakthrough victory in the 2004 Masters, he did it without a challenge from his tormentor (Tiger was 22nd). It made sense, therefore, when Mickelson’s worst stretch of the PGA Championship, the front nine on which he briefly gave back a three-stroke lead Sunday, came as Woods’ name was appearing on the Baltusrol leaderboards for the first time all week. Would Phil hear footsteps Monday? He began by sinking a pressure three-footer to par the 14th hole and keep the lead. He settled for par on 15 after starting with a 3-wood, a choice which one of the CBS men called “indicative of lack of confidence in the driver.” A poor bunker shot on 16 sent him to a bogey and made it a three-way tie at 3-under. The smile remained fixed. Mickelson parred 17. Then came the drama of the par-5 18th hole. Before his second shot, 247 yards from the green, Mickelson reached out for good karma and tapped his 3-wood on the plaque commemorating Nicklaus’ U.S. Open-winning 1-iron in 1967. Then he pulled the shot into the rough beside the green. Mickelson had a tough chip to worry about but he no longer had the threat of Woods to preoccupy him. Elkington had made sure of that minutes earlier by finishing up at 3-under. Mickelson hit the chip with the combination of rough-slicing strength and green-holding finesse that dazzles his fans. He pumped a fist as the ball flopped to within three feet of the cup. By making the birdie putt, Phil ended one hex. He finally won a major in which Tiger also finished playing well (tied for fourth). But Mickelson didn’t actually have to beat back a challenge from Woods. He didn’t have to execute that difficult chip with his nemesis in sight. Until last year’s Masters, the question was whether Mickelson would ever win a major. Until Monday, it was how soon Mickelson would win another. This was just a warm-up for the rivalry everybody wants to see. Now the question is what happens the next time Phil gets the chance to beat Tiger head to head. Now that would be a reason to get out of bed on a Monday morning. Kevin Modesti’s column appears in the Daily News three days a week. He can be reached at [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Does Phil Mickelson strike that 18th-hole chip shot as crisply if Tiger Woods is standing beside the green Monday, still a contender to win the tournament, poised to take advantage of a Phil flub? Sometimes great contests produce bigger questions than statements, and that’s the case with Mickelson’s PGA Championship victory, which left all of the top finishers to ponder what might have been. Tying for second place at 3-under par a stroke behind Mickelson and a stroke ahead of Woods and Davis Love III Steve Elkington and Thomas Bjorn could only think about their near misses on final-hole birdie putts. But Woods and Mickelson, the stars of the PGA Tour, had to think about bigger things. Things that have shaped their almost-rivalry for the decade since Tiger came out of Stanford. Things that will continue to whet the golf fan’s appetite for the day a man-to-man showdown changes the pecking order between the two California natives. center_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 For want of any strokes that got away from Woods in his 5-over-par first round before his dramatic rally to make the second-round cut and climb the fourth-round leaderboard Tiger would have finished 3-under and in position to join a tie-breaking playoff if Phil stumbled. Tiger would have had a chance to win an 11th professional major tournament and tie Walter Hagen for second to Jack Nicklaus’ 18. Had Woods gotten to 3-under, the emotions of the unusual Monday morning finish might have been entirely different for Mickelson, making it harder for the leader to control his nerves. Phil would have had a chance to stare down the old suspicions that he and every other contender is vulnerable to Tigerphobia any time they have Woods to beat. Such was the plot awaiting armchair sports psychologists who turned on CBS at 7 a.m. PDT to watch Mickelson and 11 of his pursuers play the holes they hadn’t reached before thunderstorms in Springfield, N.J., emptied the Baltusrol Golf Club course Sunday evening. last_img

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