Going Deep

Taking the Tiger-Phil dichotomy down to a whole new level
August 12, 2007

It has been a badyear for the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson rivalry. Neither has won a major,there haven't been any notable head-to-head showdowns, and their antipathy,overstated to begin with, has thawed in the warm afterglow of the Ping-Pongtable the Mickelsons sent baby Sam.

That won't do. Soon the eve of the year's final major we've drilled down to mine off-coursedisparities between golf's two superstars. In the last year a few events havebrought their differences concerning God, Country and Family into sharprelief.

God Neither Woodsnor Mickelson goes to Tour Bible study or testifies after winning. Mickelsonhas always kept his beliefs to himself, and Woods had been equally silent abouthis worship until he was put on the spot last December at a corporate event inLos Angeles. He was asked if he had "accepted Jesus as [his] Lord andSavior." Woods's answer: "My father was a Christian, but my mother isAsian, and Buddhism was also part of my childhood, so I practice both faithsrespectfully."

Country BothWoods, the son of a Green Beret, and Mickelson, the son of a Navy fighterpilot, steer big dollars toward military charities, Tiger through hisfoundation and Phil through programs like Birdies for the Brave. From there,however, their political roads part. Mickelson is chummy with the Bushes. Inthe fall of 2005 he hung in Kennebunkport with 41. Last month he showed hisfondness for 43 by attending a White House dinner (along with three otherplayers). Woods's palling around with Bush père at the AT&T National'spro-am was less significant than his nonattendance at that week's dinner withW. (If Tiger wasn't invited, it was only because the White House knew hewouldn't come.) Does that mean Tiger is a Democrat? Probably not. True, BillClinton was the keynote ex-Prez at last February's opening of the Tiger WoodsLearning Center, but Tiger publicly dissed Clinton in 1997, when he refused thesitting President's invitation to a function honoring Jackie Robinson. Ifpressed about his party leanings, Woods would probably take the Fifth, saying,a la pal Michael Jordan, that even Libertarians buy golf shirts.

FamilyMickelson's family-first ethos was evident at the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.His wife, Amy, was nearing her due date with their first child, and he swore hewould leave town as soon as his baby beeper went off. At the 2007U.S. Open at Oakmont, Woods carried no beeper. (If he did, he didn't tellanyone about it.) That he played after wife Elin had been admitted to thehospital with (non-life-threatening) complications prompted some to questionTiger's commitment. Rick Maese of the Baltimore Sun wrote, "I'm guessing .. . most husbands wouldn't choose to remain on an out-of-town business tripknowing what was happening back home." Others, like blogger GeoffShackelford, lauded Woods for having "the cojones to play the U.S. Openwith [Elin and Sam's situation] on his plate," adding that childbirth hastaken place "billions of times before--and not every father was there forthe occasion."

How does thisilluminate a potential face-off at Southern Hills? As always, when Tiger andPhil clash on the course, it's about birdies and bogeys. But it's also aboutdivergent approaches to the game, and to life.

Chris Lewis isthe author of The Scorecard Never Lies: A Year Behind the Scenes on the PGATour.

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ENDORSEMENT KING + DEDICATION + BIG BUCKS - RYDER CUPTICKETS - PRO-AM ACCESS = MEMBERSHIP REVOKED

PHOTOFRED VUICH (WOODS AND MICKELSON)BORN FIGHTERSBoth Woods's and Mickelson's fathers served in the military. SIX PHOTOSAMERICAN EXPRESS (WOODS); DON MASON/CORBIS (TRUCK); DARREN CARROLL (TICKET); MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY (WOODS SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS); PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SI IMAGING; ERICK W. RASCO (GOLD CARD)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)