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Tiger Shows His ‘A Game’ Is Back In Magnificent Duel against Phil

By Yong-yi Zhu

COLUMNIST

Remember when I said that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson would go head to head this year? I didn’t think it would be this early in the year and this dramatic.

But what a gift the world of golf received at the Ford Championship at Doral on Sunday. Not since the duel between Tiger and Vijay Singh for ranking as Golf’s number one player have we seen a match up of this proportion. And not since Tiger versus Sergio Garcia in 1999 have we seen two such popular players go at it.

This time, the favorite took home the prize. Tiger is clearly back with his A game: he finished the tournament with scores of 63 and 66. That’s a sensational 15 under par on the weekend. And by the way, he now has the scoring record at Doral with his 24 under par total.

Give Phil credit. After Tiger’s eagle at the 12th hole, it looked as though El Tigre was going to run away with the tournament. But Phil came back with back to back birdies. Unfortunately, a dagger was hammered into his game when he bogied the 16th. He could have taken the lead when Tiger bogied the same hole, but Phil faltered as well.

Then, Phil made his best pitch shot of the day on the Blue Monster while trying to take the match to extra holes on the 18th. Until it lipped out gently, fans thought there was a possibility that the day would never end and we would get bonus golf.

I wish it never did end.

Jack Nicklaus and Arnie Palmer. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The Yankees and the Red Sox. Now we can add Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to that list. But the rivalry may not last as long as we would like. Tiger will surely go on a winning streak once again. Had the Nissan Open not ended early, Tiger would have won that one too, I’m sure. He has brought back the power, the focus, and his drive to win.

The main difference between this Tiger and the Tiger of old is that he doesn’t fall back too far on the weekdays. You don’t see Tiger charging up the leader board on Sunday anymore, because he is already there. Tiger’s major problem in the past was that he would simply play well enough to make cuts, and then start to do his real work when Saturday and Sunday came around. This Tiger jumps up quickly and then stays there.

Think about how many comeback victories Tiger has had in the past couple of years. Now imagine if he hadn’t started so far back to begin with. He would have won those tournaments with ease. Pretty scary thought, right?

Now Tiger understands that bringing his A game for two days doesn’t balance out his D game for the other two. The tour has gotten better, mostly thanks to the standard he set, and now he too must improve.

Tiger’s improvement came at the expense of a two year hard nosedive in the world rankings’ points. But Tiger is once again number one in the world. It just feels right to call him the top player in the world once again.

It’s pretty clear Tiger has really brought back his drive to win. The bright red shirt was back on Sunday. The worn hat that was almost “Steve Kline-ish” arrived on the scene. But the most telling sign on Sunday was the look of determination on Tiger’s face when he made the putt on the 17th green.

That determination seems to be the big difference between Tiger and Phil. One is happy to be playing golf, while the other is not happy even if he eagles every hole that he plays. The people’s choice versus the perfectionist. Tiger doesn’t want to win, he wants to dominate. That’s why he’s one of the best athletes ever, and that’s why he will be the golfer to ultimately break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major victories.