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2005 is the Year of Tiger and Phil

By Yong-yi Zhu

COLUMNIST

Two straight tournament wins in which the final rounds were more ceremonial than competitive have signified that Phil Mickelson will have a terrific 2005 golf season. Similarly, Tiger Woods has won and placed third in the two tournaments that he has entered, indicating that all those swing changes he has worked on without Butch Harmon might actually be making a difference. Both players have started the year hot, and it is about time that they go head to head.

Perhaps we were a little premature in saying a few years ago that Tiger and David Duval would battle early and often. The same goes for announcing the battles to come between Tiger and Sergio Garcia a little while later. But this time, I cannot see El Tigre and Lefty avoiding one another in the years to come. One of the two is sure to be Player of the Year in 2005.

Much to the joy of golf audiences all around the world, there will be a rivalry in golf once again.

Remember a couple years ago when Tiger won tournaments by five, ten strokes and was in contention week in and week out? It seems like Tiger has rekindled some of that fire just in time to face Phil Mickelson.

But the two men are very different in many ways.

The initial difference is the disparity between the weights of the two players. Woods has always been well-built and in great shape; he prides himself on his work ethic. Mickelson, on the other hand, is a larger fellow and seems more representative of the common man’s physique.

Tiger has always been known for his stare and his intensity. We almost expect every one of his swings to land in the hole and for him to fist-pump his way to victory. He is never out of it until the tournament ends.

Phil, on the other hand, is much tamer. He gets an early lead and tries to hold onto it. His carrying card is his smile and his good attitude. He is a fan favorite much the same way Arnold Palmer was a fan favorite. He stays the longest to sign autographs, he gives the fans a thumbs-up when they cheer for him, and he is just a happy man on the golf course.

Another difference between the two is the professional paths they have taken. Tiger was the rookie sensation, winning at the first swish of his driver. He has had eight major victories and won his first major his second year on tour.

On the other hand, Phil was 33 before he could call himself a major winner. He has endured all the punishments that the golf gods have sent his way, including the long putt from Payne Stewart on the 72nd hole at Pinehurst and the par save on the last hole for David Toms at the Atlanta Athletic Club. But Mickelson survived these heartbreaks, and he gave us his own 72nd hole miracle at the Masters last year.

But now, he will be challenging Tiger more often. That will make them both all the more attractive to watch. Tiger and Phil both excel at the Masters, but this might be the first year when both are in pristine playing form and in the position to win it. As long as they are both mentally ready, they will put on a great show.

The U.S. Open at Pinehurst will also pit the two against each other. Phil was one shot away from a playoff last time he was there, and we all know that Tiger is itching to win another U.S. Open. This might be one of those tournaments where the rest of the field is playing for third.

Even though Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, and Retief Goosen are all potential threats, this appears to be the year of Tiger and Phil. Let’s just hope they do not disappoint us again.