No one could put a price tag on the final pairing, especially because it featured Woods, still the most recognizable athlete in sports, and Mickelson, not only Ford's highest-profile endorser but also Woods's perfect foil. The coolness between the two is the Tour's most-open secret. That didn't stop U.S. captain Hal Sutton from pairing them--with disastrous results--in two matches of the 2004 Ryder Cup. During their two losses Mickelson and Woods were clearly uncomfortable together. The physical distance between them was often so great that they seemed to be playing different holes.
For Mickelson especially, the Ryder Cup was a disaster. His failure to produce points (he went 1-3) was linked to his decision to change equipment a week before the matches. It was the undisputed low point of what had been a magical season.
However unpleasant, the relationship between Mickelson and Woods served as the springboard for much levity when they met the media last Saturday night. At one point Mickelson expressed the hope that he and Woods could make enough birdies to prevent players two or more shots behind them from making a run. Then he noted, "If we play anything like we did at the Ryder Cup, that's a very real possibility."
The evening's principal theme, though, was Mickelson's eagerness to go head-to-head with Woods. "I wanted him to play well," Mickelson insisted.
So it came to pass, almost. Late in Sunday's round, Woods, not quite at his best, made one miscue, and it almost cost him the tournament. The 16th hole--the par-4 Woods had driven a day earlier--was playing slightly longer, at 362 yards. Still tied, Mickelson hit a three-wood into a fairway bunker, while Woods went with driver. After a swing that looked like something out of a samurai movie, Woods was left with a 20-yard pitch over a bunker to a front pin. Playing it too cute, he dumped his ball into the sand, a mistake Tiger Classic would not have made, and ended up with bogey.
Mickelson then returned the favor, lipping out a five-foot par putt that would have given him the lead. Woods regained the upper hand on 17, and after Mickelson lipped out a birdie chip at the 72nd hole, Woods had his 42nd Tour victory. It marked only the fourth time he had won without leading after any of the first three rounds.
Mickelson seemed to take the defeat well. "Losing today," he said, "was probably the best thing that could have happened to me heading into the majors. I'm going to work my tail off to [shave] a couple more shots, so when I come to the Players Championship and the Masters, I [will] be ready."
A little more change, in other words, is in order. ?