I doubt Phil will use two drivers because he's going to need that extra wedge around the greens. He will probably go with the driver he cuts, the one he can hit fairways with. Because Tiger's ball stays in the air so long and a lot of the holes have a bit of dogleg and some undulation, he's going to have a hard time keeping his drives in the fairway.
June 11, 2006
Both Tiger and Phil can hit the ball high and stop it pretty quickly. Let's face it, though: Long irons are one of Tiger's strengths. No one since Jack Nicklaus has hit them like Tiger. Phil also hits long irons well, but sometimes he gets a little too aggressive. Tiger is better at aiming away from the flag and getting the ball on the green.
Phil's wedge work with Dave Pelz has paid off. I don't think anybody's better from 150 yards and in. Tiger still has issues with distance control, but he's awfully good as well. Phil has the edge because he has more control when he takes spin off the ball using that little three-quarter shot. That'll be valuable when he's playing to a back pin.
You can't find anyone in the last 10 years who has a better short game than Phil or Tiger. I'd rank them 1 and 1-A, in either order. Nobody gets up and down like these guys. It's interesting that even though they don't use the same techniques and have quite different philosophies, they excel at the scoring shots around the greens. Put these guys in a bunker or give them a lob shot, and it's a dead heat. Either can hole it at any time out of a bunker. Tiger has more shots around the green because he likes to use a variety of clubs, while Phil is much more one dimensional. Not many people realize that he always uses his 60-degree sand wedge, whether he's playing a pitch-and-run or a lob shot.
Tiger didn't close the gap on Sunday at the Masters only because he was trying so hard to win for his dying father that he was pressing and it showed in his putting. I still believe there's no better pressure putter. He's in the Big Putt Hall of Fame next to Nicklaus. Phil has really stepped up his putting. He blew away the field at Atlanta, he won in Augusta and, of course, he made that memorable putt to win the Masters for the first time two years ago. Tiger's speed was simply off on Sunday at Augusta--those putts were still hitting the edges of the holes. On the days when Tiger says he didn't make any putts, he still made more than 95% of the field. He's got the best stroke in the game.
The differences in their philosophies are obvious here too. Tiger is one of those guys who doesn't take unnecessary risks. He's like Nicklaus was; he doesn't mind sitting back and letting the other guys make mistakes. Phil has been much better about that lately, but hey, two of the three majors he has won were at Augusta, where driving accuracy and strategy aren't that big of a deal--at least not as much as they are at an Open. Don't kid yourself: When you take two drivers out there, you're swinging for the fences. At a U.S. Open you've got to play for the correct side of the fairway and pick your way around. Phil wants to make birdies at the U.S. Open while Tiger knows that pars are good scores.
Stevie Williams doesn't talk to anybody, but I will say that he and Bones [Jim MacKay] have the stones to voice their opinions to their players. Stevie and Tiger are more on the same page about how they're going to play holes. Phil and Bones discuss things a lot more. On a trouble shot Bones is usually the conservative guy and Phil is the aggressor--of course he is, he's Phil Will and that's how he's won 20-some Tour events. The U.S. Open is a different animal. Tiger doesn't rely on Stevie as much as Phil relies on Bones. Phil really relies on Bones when it comes to reading greens, and MacKay (right) excels at that. Both of these caddies are excellent matches for their players' personalities.
I don't know Tiger's latest swing coach, Hank Haney, very well, but I've never been a big fan of his swing philosophy or the swings of the guys he has taught [including Mark O'Meara and Hank Kuehne]. Rick Smith, who works with Phil on his swing, is probably as much of a mental coach for him as anything. He's always there to reassure Phil that everything looks good. Dave Pelz (below) is a great short-game teacher who's perfect for Phil, who's a feel guy on and around the greens but is nonetheless a very analytical, linear thinker. Pelz's being a former rocket scientist is right up Phil's alley. I'll give Phil the edge on coaches just because he's got more of them.
As a mental midget, I'm probably the wrong guy to be analyzing this. Then again, this is pretty much a no-brainer. Though both can pull off shots when they need them, Tiger calms himself better. He is as mentally strong as any player ever. How often does he mess up a shot that he really needs to pull off? Other than when he went for the green at the par-5 17th hole at Baltusrol in last year's PGA, I can't think of any that he has blown. Phil now has the confidence that he can win majors, and he looks like a different player, the one we were expecting to see the last dozen years. Maybe hitting shots at crunch time is as much technique as it is mental, but I think Tiger trusts his swing to the point where he can rely on it again.
This category may be moot. Tiger hasn't played in a tournament since the Masters. You can't have momentum if you're not competing. Phil won in Atlanta and Augusta and didn't play much after the Masters; other than his fourth-place showing at the Memorial last weekend, his play has been less than inspiring. For these guys, stringing together birdies in a given round is the only kind of momentum they really care about. Phil is a big momentum guy; he rides those birdie streaks better than anybody. Tiger is dealing with the death of his father; Phil is going for the Grand Slam and his third straight major championship. Based on that alone, you've got to give the Masters champ the momentum vote.
... with the lead: I'm not sure that Phil's aggressive nature benefits him when he has a final-round lead in an Open. When he was 0 for 46 in majors, he seemed less likely to hold a lead than he does now. There has never been a front-runner like Tiger, though. I don't know how many players would admit it, but when Tiger has the lead going into the final round, a lot of them figure they're playing for second.
... from behind: To say that Tiger isn't that good at chasing overstates the fact. He isn't usually behind, for starters. But also remember that his 10 major victories have come with the lead. I think Phil is better at coming from behind than at holding a lead.
THE CROWD FACTOR
When it comes to public perception, comparing Tiger with Phil is like comparing Ben Hogan with Arnold Palmer. Fans want to watch Tiger because he does amazing things and they know he's the best, but they love Phil. His popularity has grown ever since the New York fans adopted him as the sentimental underdog in the 2002 Open at Bethpage Black because he hadn't won a major. Now he has become a phenomenon. Phil smiles, acknowledges the galleries, looks like he's enjoying himself and signs autographs by the hour. Tiger deals with his fame by pretty much shutting everyone out. For whatever reason, fans in New York are crazy for Phil. Just as at Bethpage, the Open will be like a home game for him.