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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Phil’s finish good for golf

To say that the home side pushed the favorites to the limit would be an understatement as CSKA Moskva in a frozen Russian Tundra needed all of regular time and then an additional 3 minutes of stoppage to finally equalize with the Spanish side, thus keeping their unbeaten string intact. It may not have been pretty and it certainly will be up for some discussion but now the Spaniards had better bring their A-Game to the second leg and take care of business at home. Moreover, keep the Russians out of the onion bag early, or watch how tight that noose will get if they give up an early goal and must put two on the board.
What did we learn from Sunday’s left-handed spanking in the final round of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am? We learned Tiger, is still more pussycat mentally than the man-eater he once was. We also learned Phil Mickelson on his best day, can rip the heart out of the field and we learned their rivalry has become more even and it is indeed great for golf. When viewers tuned in, bloggers started to write and reporters took notes at one of golf’s most pristine venues last weekend, everyone expected the coming out party of Tiger-remixed. He’d played well in the United Arab Emirates a few weeks before. Not good enough to win but well enough to keep the parade marching forward among golf fans that he, his confidence and his game were all on the same page. Through three rounds of the Pro-Am, he was solid and in position for a Tiger type of Sunday we all have seen before he got clubbed by the ole ex-wife while burning out of his driveway. Suddenly the unexpected happened. Wood’s little brother on tour for all these years, all of a sudden wasn’t intimidated by big bro. As a matter of fact the understudy stole all of attention and embarrassed the show-stopper himself. Mickelson’s start coming from six shots back to take a two-shot lead within the first six holes not only stunned the gallery it put Tiger into panic mode. He watched Phil eagle the sixth with a 20-footer, and then Woods bogeyed the next three holes starting with an ugly three-putt from just 20 feet on the seventh. On the 12th and desperate to make something happen, Tiger holed out from the bunker for birdie. But Mickelson, who was starring at a 30-footer for par and a possible two-shot swing in Tiger’s favor, starred the master down and buried the putt, ending any hope of a Tiger-like comeback. Mickelson’s 11 stroke spanking of Woods left all in awe of what had just happened and renewed a rivalry that had gone stale between the games two big wigs. Despite Lefty now owning Tiger the last five times they’ve been paired together in the same group on a Sunday, the consensus had been Phil still melts under the heat from Woods but Pebble Beach completely changed that persona. It showed that not only can Mickelson set the pace; if Tiger isn’t locked in he can be humiliated. Woods round of 75 only cemented the feeling that mentally it’s still not all together. What made Sunday’s defeat worse for the 14-time major champion is that not only did he lose to his rival; he lost to what his rival stands for. Mickelson is viewed as the faithful, loving, caring husband; who puts his family first even before golf. Tiger is still seen as the self-centered, hot tempered, sexual addict, who cared more about indulging in his fame and celebrity, fulfilling his own personal needs and fantasies, then the damage he could do to his wonderful wife and family and his game, even though he didn’t know it. The loss to Phil on Sunday was a huge mental setback in his attempt to regain the edge he’d held over every player on tour since before the SUV crash in his driveway.

Where this goes from here can only be good for the drama the 2012 season. The intrigue of where does Tiger go from here only expands. Does he completely fold his tent and regress or does he fight the way we we’re all once so used to seeing? Does Sunday’s beat down make him stronger and more determined to scrap his way back to the top, pushing him towards a major victory this year or even just a PGA win for the first time since 2009? Those questions remain to be answered. What about Phil? Does this direct him towards a consistency that we’ve never really seen from the 40-time tour winner? Can he shoot to the top and take over the void in the sport, Tiger has left behind that so far no player has not come close to filling? What about when they meet the next time on a Sunday with a tournament championship on the line. Can you imagine the anticipation, the drama and most importantly the enormity of the moment? Because after what happened at Pebble Beach last Sunday, there will be no sure idea of what to expect.

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