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Game On

April 20, 2009
April 20, 2009

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April 20, 2009

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Game On

Neither Phil Mickelson nor Tiger Woods won the Masters, but next time they meet both will remember their epic final-round match

WHAT WERE thechances? What were the odds that Tiger Woods, the best golfer in the world, andPhil Mickelson, Tiger's wildly entertaining Salieri, would both wind up in thesame twosome, with the same score as they began a gorgeous Sunday afternoonwith the course playing just soft enough that making up seven shots was in therealm of the possible? ¶ Think about it: Phil has Tiger's old coach, ButchHarmon, working with him these days. Butch had Phil nice and loose as he wentthrough a beautiful warmup session on Masters Sunday. Harmon took in IanPoulter's all-white getup and said, "If I dressed like that, people wouldbe looking to buy ice cream from me." Tiger, in his warmup, hit a series ofhooks and pushes, and his teacher, Hank Haney, was looking particularly grimbefore the 1st hole was done.

This is an article from the April 20, 2009 issue

There was enoughsubtext in this pairing to make Sigmund Freud reexamine his theories. In 2003Phil said in an interview that Tiger was playing with "inferiorequipment" and that Tiger "hates it that I can fly it past himnow." In December 2008 Tiger's caddie, Steve Williams, retaliated, in amanner of speaking: He described Phil to a reporter in New Zealand as "aprick." Yeah, sure, this is all pretty tame by the lofty standards of NBAtrash talk. Still, Tiger's "Stevie" was on his best behavior on Sundayat Augusta.

To cite just twoexamples: On 8, Williams returned the flagstick to the hole, even though Philwas the last to hole out. On 9, after Phil played his third shot out of agreenside bunker, leaving his caddie, Jim (Bones) Mackay, with a rake job,Williams cleaned Phil's ball without giving it the country-club spit, just anice spiffy wipe with a moist towel. Very classy.

As for Steve'sboss, you have to say, once more with feeling, that the man is amazing. Tiger'stee shot on the 1st hole was yanked way left, about 100 yards off-line. Still,he made par. He hit some other shots that were nearly as heinous. Still, heshot a four-under 68. He could have shot 78. Remember when he played TorreyPines on one leg? This was about the same thing, except on Sunday at Augusta hewas hobbled by his swing.

On 15, desperatefor an eagle on the par-5, he hit a little baby cut shot off the tee, moredesperate to find something that would finish in the fairway. Phil hit a big,high, hard draw shot that ended up at least 15 yards past Tiger's ball.

They would neveradmit it publicly, but Tiger and Phil were playing for two things on Sunday atAugusta. In the big picture Tiger was looking for his fifth green jacket, Philhis third. In the little picture they were playing for bragging rights of thehighest order.

Phil and Tiger arenot Arnie and Jack. Nothing like it. Yes, they are respectful and cordial toeach other. They're pros' pros. They like playing with each other incompetition. Each year they sit at the same long table at the champions dinner,on Tuesday of Masters week. But they never play practice rounds together. Theynever play in team competitions together, at least not voluntarily. Tigerdoesn't envy Phil's easy charm, and Phil doesn't envy Tiger's extraordinarydiscipline. (In the case of Nicklaus and Palmer, each craved what the otherhad.) Tiger is forever taking names and prisoners and hides. He wants to ownpieces of every player who has a chance to beat him.

Let's say Tigerhad shot 67 on Sunday and Phil 77. Now let's jump to the Phil-Tiger Mondayplayoff to decide the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. Would Tiger dig deep andconjure up the results from Sunday 2009 at Augusta? You bet! For Fred Couples,for Davis Love III, for Ernie Els, for Padraig Harrington and Retief Goosen andeven Vijay Singh, such thinking is foreign. But Phil understands Tiger'seat-or-be-eaten M.O. On Sunday he needed to beat Tiger as much as Tiger neededto beat him. With a front-nine 30, and despite a bunch of missed short putts onthe back nine plus a hideous, waterlogged double-bogey 5 on 12, Phil nippedTiger by a shot, 67 to 68. Does it get you a medal? In a manner of speaking, itdoes.

Still, Tiger's theman. His face, late on Sunday, when his week was over and Cabrera & Co.were still going at it, told more than his few words, and his few words saideverything. Here he was, rich as Croesus, with a beautiful wife and two healthychildren, on a lovely spring afternoon, and he was seething. He was sweating.His eyes were watery and tired. He was disgusted. He said of his round, "Itwas just terrible. I don't know what was going on." Sixty-eight.

Watch this man,this Eldrick (Tiger) Woods, as closely as you can for as long as you can. Therewill never be another one like him. He took off his shoes and slipped intosneakers, and got out of Dodge as fast as he could.

His worthyadversary, maestro Mickelson, with his bright eyes and his dimples and hisaccessible caddie, who called the Sunday round "the most fun I've ever hadon a golf course," was in no rush to leave, even if he was not going to themembers' Sunday-night dinner for the new winner. Yes, a simple back nine—sevenpars and two birdies on the short par-5s—would have earned him a spot in theplayoff, but what the hell. He's done a lot in the game, and he'll do more.

He sat in theMasters Club Room reserved for past champions, ate a burger, called his threekids (recovering from various maladies) at home in suburban San Diego, watchedthe playoff on TV and, when it was all over, made a leisurely departure. "Ihad the time of my life out there," Phil said. "Would I like to haveshot a 33 on the back nine? Sure. But it was a great day."

Of course it was.He won.

PGA TourConfidential: The inside scoop from SI Golf Group writers and editors atGOLF.com/confidential.

While Woods got out of Dodge, Mickelson said, "IHAD THE TIME OF MY LIFE OUT THERE," and was in no rush to leave.
PHOTOPhotograph by Robert BeckBIG MOVE Mickelson shot up the leader board with a record-tying 30 on the front, but he spun his wheels on the back.PHOTOFRED VUICHFOREST RANGER Woods, who had difficulty hitting fairways all week, said his play on Sunday was "just terrible."