Woods, Mickelson yet to face off at Masters

Staff WriterApril 8, 2009 

— Without getting too deep into the psychological layers of who they are, perhaps the way Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson chose to spend their Tuesday at Augusta National Golf Club is illustrative of how different they are.

On a raw, gusty day that felt more like winter on the Irish coast than April in Augusta, Woods, dressed in all black, spent his morning practicing in the wind that raked across the property.

In his clinical way, Woods determined there was nothing to be gained by playing Augusta National in conditions that were a world apart from what they will be when the Masters begins on Thursday. He chose, instead, to focus on polishing edges.

Meanwhile, Mickelson, dressed in shades of gray, played 18 windblown holes with U.S. Amateur runner-up Drew Kittleson, insisting neither the wind nor the temperature (in the high 40s) were as uncomfortable as all those hands stuffed into pockets would suggest.

"It wasn't bad at all," Mickelson said, his cheeks reddened by the wind.

Either way, it was a prelude to what is to come this week when Woods and Mickelson, the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world, respectively, chase the year's first major championship.

It is striking to realize they have now played 30 Masters between them, Tiger winning four times and Mickelson twice. It seems like yesterday they were the new kids. Now they're being asked to weigh in on the teenagers in the field, who grew into their games watching Woods and Mickelson at Augusta.

Each has had his Masters moments -- Tiger's record win in 1997, his slow-motion chip-in at the 16th hole in 2005 and Mickelson's leap upon winning his first major five years ago come to mind.

Their paths have crossed at Augusta but never spectacularly collided on Sunday. When both have finished in the top five -- it has happened four times -- they have yet to have a defining showdown on a Masters weekend, though they were paired in the final round in 2001.

They have dueled at Doral and in the Boston suburbs, trading victories, but their rivalry has been more imagined than real. Woods said he has gone head to head more often with Ernie Els in majors when, in reality, he has probably done more direct damage to Sergio Garcia in majors.

When Mickelson won the green jacket for a second time in 2006, it was Woods who presented the garment to him.

"I do have a picture of him sliding that jacket on me," Mickelson said, smiling.

Despite Mickelson's missed cut at Houston last week, a performance he seemed content to brush off, both arrive here intent on winning. Mickelson has won twice already this year, and Woods reaffirmed his place as the game's reigning master when he birdied the 72nd hole to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational 10 days ago in Orlando, Fla.

Asked if, despite a layoff of nearly nine months, he expects to win this week, Woods said simply, "Always."

Mickelson, asked to ponder the possibility of playing with Tiger on Sunday afternoon, said, "I think he's going to be there ... and I believe I'm going to be there."

For Mickelson, the challenge is driving the ball consistently, not letting his passion for power lead to too many wayward tee shots on a course that isn't as forgiving as it was a decade ago.

In the four years since his last victory here, Woods has struggled to hole enough putts.

When Woods drained the 16-footer to beat Sean O'Hair in the dying light at Bay Hill, it was another instance of him making the extraordinary appear routine.

"You know if you let him have that putt on the last hole or you let him have a chance, he's going to beat you. Whereas, you don't know that about anyone else," Ogilvy said of Woods.

In searching to explain the difference between Woods and Mickelson, Ogilvy went to Tiger's last Masters victory in 2005. After his chip-in birdie at the 16th, Woods bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes to fall into a playoff with Chris DiMarco, a rare wobble.

On the first extra hole, Woods hit two perfect shots and holed the birdie putt to win.

"Phil would do less than that because ... he's more human than Tiger," Ogilvy said.

rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5118

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