Commentary

Phil Mickelson gets best of Tiger Woods

Updated: February 13, 2012, 8:38 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- That was fun, wasn't it? Maybe not for Tiger Woods. Well, absolutely not for Tiger, who couldn't get off the Monterey Peninsula fast enough and might not be back at Pebble Beach until the 2019 U.S. Open.

But big picture, the Tiger-Phil dynamic, is as good as any 17-Mile Drive vista. Phil Mickelson more than lived up to his end Sunday during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National; Woods did not.

Just having them in the same group -- even if the amateurs were an unsightly nuisance during the final round -- was a welcome occurrence, one not to be taken for granted.

For a generation-plus, they have been the face of golf, combining to win 111 PGA Tour events and 18 major championships. They were grouped again on Sunday, for the 30th time in their careers, and while it wasn't a duel like they had at Doral back in 2005 or perhaps the 2009 Masters, it was compelling nonetheless.

Few saw this kind of drubbing coming, Mickelson waxing Woods by 11 strokes, 64 to 75, and cruising to his 40th career PGA Tour title to move into ninth place all time, ahead of Tom Watson and Cary Middlecoff.

Mickelson came from 6 strokes back to win by 3. He had the lowest score of the day by 3 shots. He didn't make a bogey and twice made long putts to save par.

"Phil's a big-stage kind of guy,'' said Jim "Bones'' Mackay, Mickelson's caddie since he made his professional debut during the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. "I think it's fair to say that he enjoys what you saw out there today. He loves playing with Tiger. He loves having the chance to win tournaments. I think he gets fired up to have everybody watching.

"He has so much respect for Tiger, as obviously everybody out here does. He's close with Joe [LaCava, Woods' caddie,] as I am. We know it's going to be fun. There's going to be a lot of people watching. It's a big stage. And that's what he likes. The one thing that has always impressed me about him is how comfortable he seems when there is a lot going on.''

So imagine just how big that stage was for Skip McGee. He's an executive with Barclays from Houston and was Mickelson's amateur partner for the tournament.

They made the cut to 25 teams, and there was McGee in the middle of the madness, actually playing his 15-handicap brand of golf alongside Mickelson, Woods and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

"We'd be walking down the fairway talking about the economy, about work, about Barclays, about his golf course projects,'' McGee said of playing with Mickelson. "He's just a very engaging guy. I had to snap out of it at times to remember how big this was. It was such a privilege.

[+] EnlargeTiger/Phil
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesEven though their overall record in head-to-head matchups is tied, Phil Mickelson owns an 8-3-1 record against Tiger Woods since 2007.

"It was very unique. I'll treasure this forever. It's something I'll tell my grandkids about.''

No doubt.

But it did provide for an odd backdrop to the Tiger-Phil deal. While the tournament's tradition is based on the amateur format, it can get a little uncomfortable having guys slapping it around inside the ropes while the big boys are playing for the tournament title.

It certainly didn't bother Mickelson, and Woods has dealt with this kind of thing forever. Romo is a scratch golfer who played quite well on Sunday and is used to the commotion. But there is Woods, trying to win his first tournament in more than two years, his game seemingly trending toward that sort of breakthrough victory and … he's helping Romo read a putt?

This, of course, is one of the most scenic venues in golf with fans fully engaged for both players -- and becoming more so as the day wore on.

Woods never seemed into it Sunday. Early on, even when he was right in the tournament, he appeared lethargic, lacking energy. Woods was quickly right in the thick of things when Charlie Wi 4-putted the first green, but Woods hit a ghastly birdie putt at the second from 5 feet and never got comfortable on the greens.

Asked afterward if he was ill, Woods said no, that he simply was walking slowly, taking his time, to deal with the inevitable pace-of-play issues that haunt the tournament because of its amateur format.

"There's no need to rush, no need to do anything quickly,'' he said. "So I just took my time and unfortunately I had to take my time on a lot more shots than Phil did.''

That might have been the only time Woods laughed all day, and shooting the highest score of any player inside the top 75 certainly contributed to his mood. He missed five putts inside of 5 feet, took 31 for the day and dropped from third to a tie for 15th.

But even as late as the par-3 12th hole, there was a glimmer of hope, as Woods holed a bunker shot for a birdie while Mickelson found himself in trouble for the first time all day after a poor approach and then an indifferent chip shot. Mickelson faced a 40-footer for par, and a bogey would mean Woods would be just 3 behind with six to play.

Of course, Phil drained it -- just as he did a long par putt at the 15th while Woods couldn't make a 4-footer.

It was that kind of day for Tiger, but it still didn't deter the fans, who seem eager to see him back competing for such titles. They cheered him right up until the end, when he knocked it on the green in 2 at the par-5 18th, playing only for those coveted FedEx Cup points.

Woods, of course, 3-putted for par, while Mickelson made his sixth birdie of the day (to go along with an eagle) to cap a memorable victory.

It improved his overall record in head-to-head matchups against Woods to 13-13-4, including 8-3-1 since 2007. Phil used to suffer at Tiger's hands, but not so much anymore, something that is sure to be the source of great glee.

"I feel like he brings out the best in me,'' Mickelson said. "But it's only been the past five years. Before, I got spanked pretty good. Let's not forget the big picture here, I've been beat up.''

So was everyone. On Sunday, it was Tiger who took the beating, in shocking fashion.

Still, it was a great day, even if it is one Woods would rather forget.

Great for Mickelson. And great for golf fans, who relished having the game's heavyweights together inside the ropes again.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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