PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods left a lot of money, world-ranking points, FedEx points and his Bridgestone golf ball at the bottom of the water in front of the 17th green Sunday.

You would hardly know it based on his positive reaction after he tied for 11th at the Players Championship, shooting a final-round 69 after earlier being in a tie for second place behind eventual winner Webb Simpson.

“I really played really good today. I hit it so good,” Woods said after shooting rounds of 72-71-65-69. “I had control of it from tee to green. I made some putts. I felt good on basically every facet of the game, and it’s weird — not to really mishit a shot today and only shoot 3 under par is just weird … because I played much better than that.”

Woods began the day tied for eighth, 11 strokes behind Simpson. By the time Woods teed off, he had dropped to a tie for 17th.

He steadily climbed the leaderboard with birdies at the second, third, fourth and ninth holes. He added birdies at the 11th and 12th and was 6 under par for his round. At that point, he had closed to within four strokes of Simpson and was tied for second at 14 under par.

But like Saturday, when he was 8 under through 12 holes, the round stalled at the par-4 14th and this time was compounded by a tee shot into the water at the par-3 17th.

In both cases, Woods hit a sand wedge approach, but he said he did not misplay either shot.

“No. 14, it’s blowing downwind, and it’s off the left, and [the pin] is on top of that crown, and I thought it [the ball] was going to skip,” Woods said of the shot from 110 yards. “I thought I was going to have a hard time keeping it up top, and I spun it off the ridge. Left it short and hit a good putt. Just didn’t go in.”

The hole has been something of a nemesis for Woods. It is where he hit his tee shot in the water — leading to a controversial drop — on his way to victory in 2013. He bogeyed the hole Saturday. This time, he pounded a driver 355 yards into the fairway and had the short distance to the flag.

After it came up short and rolled off the front of the green, Woods elected to putt and left it 8 feet short then missed the par putt.

After failing to birdie the par-5 16th for the second straight day, he arrived at the par-3 17th and watched Jordan Spieth stick his shot to a few feet from a precarious pin that is typically on the right side on Sundays.

“I think I messed him up,” Spieth said. “He went and looked in my bag, and I had a 52-degree [sand wedge], which is a pretty aggressive play. I had to draw it from the water. And then he hit one, and the wind is just going like this the whole day, and if he caught this, he’s a tap-in birdie. It was unlucky there.”

Woods said Spieth’s shot did not impact him and that it was simply the wind.

“It was blowing downwind, and then, unfortunately, it switched in my face,” Woods said.

The resulting double-bogey bounced Woods out of the top 10, which meant a significant difference in prize money, FedEx points and the world ranking.

Woods finished at 277, 11 under par and seven shots back of Simpson and three back of second-place finishers Charl Schwartzel, Jimmy Walker and Xander Schauffele.

After beginning the week ranked 92nd in the world, Woods will move up to 80th. He would have been pushing the top 50 with a second-place finish. The drop also cost him approximately $600,000 in prize money, as the three players who tied for second each received $821,333, while Woods got $225,500. He will move from 53rd to 48th in the FedEx Cup standings.

Having won 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour events in his career, Woods is not much concerned with where he is in the various rankings. But he noted Sunday that he would like to qualify for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August.

“One of my goals is to get into Akron, one last time, before we leave there,” Woods said of the tournament he has won eight times at Firestone Country Club. It is moving to Memphis, Tennessee, after this year. “I’ve won there eight times, and I would like to get there with one more chance. But I’ve [got] to do some work between now and then.”

 

https://twitter.com/PGATOUR/status/995726211975294976

 

Short of a victory, Woods needs to be ranked among the top 50 in the world as of July 23 or July 30 to qualify.

“He’ll win sometime soon enough,” said Spieth, who tied for 41st after a final-round 74 that included an 8 at the last hole. “He’s certainly playing well enough to do so. All in all, I think he played like a 5- or 6-under round, almost shot 7 or 8 and ended up with 3.

“So his game, if I compare it to other guys that are winning golf tournaments that I’m playing with day to day, it’s right up there.”

Woods will take the next two weeks off and is expected to return at The Memorial Tournament, held May 31-June 3, that he has won five times but hasn’t played since 2015. That year, he shot his highest score as a pro, a third-round 85.

He has come a long way from those days. Some 13 months after spinal fusion surgery, he has played nine worldwide events — eight on the PGA Tour — and posted five top-12 finishes. He has jumped from 1,199th in the world to 80th. And he has some confidence.

“I felt comfortable with every facet of my game today,” Woods said. “Everything felt good. I had control, I was hitting it high, low, right, left, didn’t matter what it was. I felt like I had control of it today.”

 

Source: ESPN.com

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Lydia Ko has faced plenty of heat over the past couple years. The general questions surrounding her have been about why a teen sensation with 14 LPGA titles to her credit would change her coach, her equipment, her caddie—and why has it been two seasons since her last victory? Thankfully for her sanity, it sounds like she hasn’t been paying too much attention to all the critics.

And when she was faced with the chance to change the narrative, Ko stepped up. Five days after turning 21, the New Zealand resident celebrated by claiming her 15th LPGA title, a playoff victory over Minjee Lee at the MEDIHEAL Championship.

Ko didn’t just win, she won in style, making an eagle 3 on the first extra hole, the par-5 18th at Lake Merced Golf Club outside San Francisco after hitting her second shot from 234 yards to less than three feet.

https://twitter.com/LPGA/status/990758034711363585

The leader after each of the first three rounds, Ko was asked on Saturday night whether or not she felt pressure from people talking about if she’s going to win again or not. Ko responded to the question saying, “I’ve been very distant from like press and media. No offense.”

It was a typical Ko response: honest, yet perfectly considerate.

The last time Ko had slept on a 54-hole lead was at the 2016 U.S. Open. The last time she had won was a week later at the Marathon Classic. Since that victory, Ko has changed her swing coaches, going from David Leadbetter to Gary Gilchrist to her current instructor, Ted Oh, who she began working with in early 2018. She changed her clubs, moving from Callaway to PXG. And she changed her caddie, multiple times. When all of these changes didn’t add up to continued dominance on tour, some questioned whether or not she had made the right choices.

But Ko stayed patient, confident, and relatively quiet about all of the adjustments.

During Sunday’s final round, the lead changed hands multiple times. Ko had started the day one stroke ahead of Jessica Korda. A cold putter kept Korda from making a charge (she’d finish with a Sunday 74). Meanwhile, early bogeys from Ko brought Lee, who started the day three strokes off the lead, into the mix. Lee made five birdies on the back nine to finish 12-under for the tournament, posting a closing 68.

After making the turn with a 38, Ko improved on the back nine and was sitting at 11 under for the tournament, playing in the group behind Lee. She watched as Lee made her birdie putt to finish at 12 under. That putt meant Ko had to make birdie to force a playoff.

Ko’s approach shot came up short on the short par 5, and her chip for eagle grazed the high side of the cup. She tapped in for birdie and a Sunday 71, and the two 21-year-olds went back to the 18th tee for the first playoff hole.

Each player headed into the playoff having had experience winning at Lake Merced in the past. Lee won the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior, where Ko had lost in her semifinal match. Ko won the Swinging Skirts LPGA event in 2014 and 2015 at Lake Merced.

Both put their drives in the fairway. Ko, with a 3-wood in her hands from 234 yards out, hit a towering shot over some branches that hung over the left side of the fairway. It hit in front of the green, rolled up and almost into the hole. Lee made birdie, but it wasn’t enough. Ko’s short eagle putt rolled in and she left the 18th green in tears.

After the win, Ko opened up more about what it felt like to play 43 starts without a win.

“I was frustrated because sometimes I would go into the Thursday feeling, Hey, I feel like I can actually play really well, and then miss the cut or shoot over par,” Ko said. “I think it was more frustration against myself from myself. I think sometimes self pressure is the biggest thing where you kind of put a lot of load on your shoulders. That’s what my mom actually said, hey, just clear your mind, just take away all the weight off your shoulders and just go out and play. That’s what I think I was able to do this week, which is always nice when you’re kind of playing without fear and you’re just out there freely.”

 

Source: Golf Digest

Inbee Park brings more than her unshakably tranquil demeanor back to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings this week.

She brings more than her Olympic gold medal and seven major championships to the Mediheal Championship on the outskirts of San Francisco.

She brings a jarring combination of gentleness and ruthlessness back to the top of the rankings.

Park may look as if she could play the role of Mother Teresa on some goodwill tour, but that isn’t what her opponents see when she’s wielding her Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball mallet.

She’s like Mother Teresa with Lizzy Borden’s axe.

When Park gets on one of her rolls with the putter, she scares the hell out of the rest of the tour.

At her best, Park is the most intimidating player in women’s golf today.

“Inbee makes more 20- and 30-footers on a regular basis than anyone I know,” seven-time major championship winner Karrie Webb said.

All those long putts Park can hole give her an aura more formidable than any power player in the women’s game.

“A good putter is more intimidating than someone who knocks it out there 280 yards,” Webb said “Even if Inbee misses a green, you know she can hole a putt from anywhere. It puts more pressure on your putter knowing you’re playing with someone who is probably going to make them all.”

Park, by the way, said Webb and Ai Miyazato were huge influences on her putting. She studied them when she was coming up on tour.

Webb, though, believes there’s something internal separating Park. It isn’t just Park’s ability to hole putts that makes her so intimidating. It’s the way she carries herself on the greens.

“She never gets ruffled,” Webb said. “She says she gets nervous, but you never see a change in her. If you’re going toe to toe with her, that’s what is intimidating. Even if you’re rolling in putts on top of her, it doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s definitely a player you have to try not to pay attention to when you’re paired with her, because you can get caught up in that.”

Park has led the LPGA in putts per greens in regulation five of the last 10 years.

Brad Beecher has been on Park’s bag for more than a decade, back before she won her first major, the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. He has witnessed the effect Park can have on players when she starts rolling in one long putt after another.

“You have those times when she’ll hole a couple long putts early, and you just know, it’s going to be one of those days,” Beecher said. “Players look at me like, `Does she ever miss?’ or `How am I going to beat this?’ You see players in awe of it sometimes.”

Park, 29, won in her second start of 2018, after taking seven months off with a back injury. In six starts this year, she has a victory, two ties for second-place and a tie for third. She ended Shanshan Feng’s 23-week run at No. 1 with a tie for second at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open last weekend.

What ought to disturb fellow tour pros is that Park believes her ball striking has been carrying her this year. She’s still waiting for her putter to heat up. She is frustrated with her flat stick, even though she ranks second in putts per greens in regulation this season.

“Inbee Park is one of the best putters ever,” said LPGA Hall of Famer Sandra Haynie, a 42-time LPGA winner. “She’s dangerous on the greens.”

Haynie said she would rank Park with Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Nancy Lopez as the best putters she ever saw.

Hall of Famer Joanne Carner says Park is the best putter she has seen since Lopez.

“I thought Nancy was a great putter,” Carner said. “Inbee is even better.”

Park uses a left-hand low grip, with a mostly shoulder move and quiet hands.

Lopez used a conventional grip, interlocking, with her right index finger down the shaft. She had a more handsy stroke than Park.

Like Lopez, Park prefers a mallet-style putter, and she doesn’t switch putters much. She is currently playing with an Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball putter. She won the gold medal with it two years ago. She used an Oddysey White Ice Sabertooth winged mallet when she won three majors in a row in 2013.

Lopez hit the LPGA as a rookie in 1978 with a Ray Cook M1 mallet putter and used it for 20 years. It’s in the World Golf Hall of Fame today.

“I watch Inbee, and I think, `Wow, that’s how I used to putt,’” Lopez said. “You can see she’s not mechanical at all. So many players today are mechanical. They forget if you just look at the hole and stroke it, you’re going to make more putts.”

Notably, Park has never had a putting coach, not really. Her husband and swing coach, Gi Hyeob Nam, will look at her stroke when she asks for help.

“When I’m putting, I’m concentrating on the read and mostly my speed,” Park said. “I don’t think mechanically about my stroke at all, unless I think there’s something wrong with it, and then I’ll have my husband take a look. But, really, I rely on my feel. I don’t think about my stroke when I’m out there playing.”

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin says Park’s remarkably consistent speed is a key to her putting.

“Inbee is definitely a feel putter, and her speed is so consistent, all the time,” Rankin said. “You have to assume she’s a great green reader.”

Beecher says Park’s ability to read greens is a gift. She doesn’t rely on him for that. She reads greens herself.

“I think what impresses me most is Inbee has a natural stroke,” Beecher said. “There’s nothing too technical. It’s more straight through and straight back, but I think the key element of the stroke is that she keeps the putter so close to the ground, all the time, on the takeaway and the follow-through. It helps with the roll and with consistency.”

Park said that’s one of her fundamentals.

“I keep it low, almost like I’m hitting the ground,” Park said. “When I don’t do that, I miss more putts.”

Beecher believes the real reason Park putts so well is that the putter brought her into the game. It’s how she got started, with her father, Gun Gyu Park, putting the club in her hands as a child. She loved putting on her own.

“That’s how she fell in love with the game,” Beecher said. “Getting started that way, it’s played a huge role in her career.”

 

Source: GolfChannel.com

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Masters champion Patrick Reed says he doesn’t believe in one company sponsoring a golfer entirely. At least that’s his stance right now.

But the decision to play with a mixed bag of clubs — and not commit to one big-name brand — could be costing him millions, experts say.

The 27-year-old winner of six PGA Tour titles parted ways with Callaway Golf last year and told CNBC this week, “It’s hard to believe that there is one company that makes 14 perfect golf clubs.”

Golf Channel equipment expert Matt Adams sees Reed in a “unique situation” financially. He estimates winning a Masters could pay out between $12 million-$15 million from corporate appearances, speaking fees and endorsement dollars. That number could be even higher for Reed considering he’s a free agent with his clubs.

“I don’t think (Reed) is looking for or stressed about finding an (equipment) deal. There’s no rush,” said Adams, who’s worked in the golf industry for more than 25 years. “However, when you’re the Masters champion, referred to as Captain America, and it’s a Ryder Cup year, I get the feeling that equipment companies will be knocking on the door and would love to sign somebody of (Reed’s) caliber, particularly when they can offer him a lot of money in a category where he’s not making anything in.”

There’s been an overall decline in equipment deals because of how the market has changed, Adams notes. But he says the decline has generally hurt PGA Tour players less accomplished than Reed, who’s ranked No. 11 in the world.

“For someone as high a caliber as him to win the Masters without an equipment deal is extremely rare,” Adams said. “Five to 10 years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to see any Tour player who didn’t have an equipment deal, but there’s not as much money as there used to be.”

After the Masters, Reed seemed unfazed that he’d miss out on a bonus that golfers typically receive from their equipment sponsor after winning a major championship. “The biggest thing was, I wanted to be different,” he told CNBC.

Just how different is it? Reed’s decision to sign with Nike for a clothing deal that’s separate from his equipment falls in line with Tiger Woods’ decision to be sponsored by Nike for apparel but TaylorMade for clubs and Bridgestone Golf for balls.

Nike stopped making golf equipment in 2016, creating a major wave of free agency for some of the top equipment brands. Since leaving Callaway last year, Reed hasn’t signed with another equipment company.

While under contract with Callaway, he was seen using other brands’ clubs and blamed lackluster results on his equipment.

“That’s the trade-off, when those two things are at conflict,” said Southern California associate professor David Carter, the executive director of the school’s sports business institute. “An athlete in this situation has to weigh what’s best for his on-course performance and long-term, off-course financial wellbeing.”

While Reed’s situation with no equipment sponsor is unusual, there are other recent high-profile examples. Brooks Koepka also bucked the trend when he won the 2017 U.S. Open by using a bag full of irons he wasn’t paid to play with.

Koepka, who had used Nike equipment before it got out of the club-making game and now has an apparel deal with the company like Reed, was courted by Mizuno Golf. Although he wasn’t under contract, Koepka used Mizuno irons created specifically with him in mind (as an athletic long driver) for the U.S. Open.

In another sign of how much the market has changed, Sergio Garcia split with longtime sponsor TaylorMade after 2017, the year he won his green jacket, and signed on with Callaway.

Adams says big-name players such as Tiger or Rory McIlroy can make more than $20 million a year from their apparel and equipment deals combined, and those deals are typically written long term for five to seven years. But the numbers greatly vary below the top-tier names, with mid-range golfers averaging closer to the $1 million-$5 million range for shorter terms.

According to experts, most equipment companies will sponsor around five to seven notable Tour players, and their contracts require a golfer to use 12 or 13 of 14 clubs with the brand. Tiger’s deal is the rare exception to the rule.

In 2016, Phil Mickelson earned $50 million off the course from appearance fees, course design and a list of sponsors that included Callaway and Rolex, according to Forbes. The only active athletes to earn more outside of their normal salaries that year was Roger Federer ($60 million) and LeBron James ($54 million). And Jordan Spieth more than doubled his sponsorship earnings after he won two majors in 2015

“The position that Reed is in now is a good one because of his notoriety,” Carter said. “Whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, he has an emerging brand that gives him a tremendous amount of leverage with these (equipment) companies.”

Reed’s case presents an interesting dilemma: Comfort with his clubs or dollar signs. It’s worth noting that he earned $1.98 million for his Masters victory and has just over $22 million in PGA Tour earnings overall.

At Augusta National last weekend, Reed used a Ping driver, Titleist and Callaway irons, Artisan Golf wedges, a 7-year-old Nike 3-wood club and an Odyssey putter. And he used a Titleist Pro V1 ball.

“He would be passing up quite a bit of money,” Carter said of Reed’s lack of equipment sponsor. “But if he’s being true to himself and his personal brand, he could monetize it elsewhere. He could do a deal when he’s comfortable. But it almost seems inevitable for him to sign (an equipment contract). You can only go rogue for so long without it having a (financial) effect.”

Contributing: David Dusek of Golfweek

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Welcome to the Masters morning rundown, your one-stop shop to catch up on the action from Augusta National. Here’s everything you need to know for the morning of April 6.

Spieth sets the pace

What slump? Jordan Spieth racked up seven birdies—including five consecutive on the back—and an eagle on Thursday afternoon to take the Masters lead on Day 1.

It’s not so much that Spieth went low, but how. While he made the most of the 11 greens he hit—on the nine holes where a red number was recorded, six were spurred by approaches within 12 feet—Spieth chalked up two of his best shots to his putter. An eagle putt on the eighth and, of all things, a five-foot bogey putt on the seventh.

“It was a very difficult putt, and I could have dropped to over par,” Spieth said. “And it led to stepping on No. 8 tee feeling like, okay, regrouped, let’s grab three coming in.”

Given his early-season struggles have been attributed to the flat stick—he entered the week ranked 185th in strokes gained: putting—Spieth’s 1.33 putts per green mark was an auspicious sign, and to the rest of the field, a bad omen. It wasn’t a flawless round; he driver was problematic, and he did make three bogeys. As it was routinely pointed out, one good putting round does not erase three months of woe. But confidence breeds more confidence, and on a course that Spieth has made his de facto home, Spieth is brimming with it heading into Friday.

Finau’s “miraculous” 68

On Wednesday night, it appeared Tony Finau wouldn’t be able to tee it up in Round 1. Which made what transpired on Thursday all the more shocking. As night fell on Augusta National Thursday night, the 28-year-old finds himself near the top of the leader board.

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Despite dislocating his ankle in celebration at the Par-3 Contest, Finau cobbled together a four-under 68, one of the best rounds on Day 1. The tour’s leader in driving distance still had plenty of oomph off the tee, and though his irons weren’t on (hitting just half of the greens in regulation) his putter was, with a field-best 1.28 putts per hole.

He did it with “quite a bit” of tape. And a hell of a lot of heart.

“It was nothing short of a miracle ,” Finau said.

This is Finau’s first appearance at the Masters, and as it’s been noted, this is a tournament not kind to newbies. Considering what he just accomplished on one ankle, taking down that history doesn’t seem too daunting.

Tiger’s so-so Round 1

The buzz never stopped for Tiger Woods’ first Masters round in three years. The problem was, Woods never got going, posting a one-over 73.

The 14-time major winner was able to make two birdies on the final five holes, yet his poor driving continues to rear its ugly head. This was especially evident on the par 5s, which have been the bane of his existence this season (101st in par 5 scoring), failing to make birdie on Augusta National’s long holes.

To his credit, Tiger was okay with his round, and feels like he’s in position to strike.

“Yes, I played in a major championship again, but also the fact that … I got myself back in this tournament, and I could have easily let it slip away,” he said. “I fought hard to get it back in there, and I’m back in this championship. It will be fun the next 54 holes.”

It will. The Masters always is. But Woods needs a solid Friday to make sure he’s part of that mix.

Sergio’s terrible, no good, very bad hole

Sergio Garcia came to Augusta National’s 15th hole at two over in his first round as reigning Masters champ. His score was decidedly higher when walking to the 16th tee. After hitting a 320-yard drive on the 15th, leaving 200 yards and change, the Spaniard’s approach went into the water. As did his fourth. And six. And eighth. And, you guessed it, 10th.

However, the 12th found land, and the 38-year-old sunk the 10-footer. The final damage? An octuple-bogey 13.

“I don’t know,” Garcia responded when asked to explain the hole. “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s one of those things. I feel like—I don’t know, it’s the first time in my career where I make a 13 without missing a shot. Simple as that. I felt like I hit a lot of good shots and unfortunately the ball just didn’t want to stop. I don’t know, you know, it’s one of those things. So it’s just unfortunate, but that’s what it is.”

The 13 tied for the highest score in Masters history, and the highest score on the 15th, “beating” the 11s of Masashi (Jumbo) Ozaki, Ben Crenshaw and Ignacio Garrido. To Garcia’s credit, he bounced back on the 16th with a birdie. But it’s safe to say he won’t be defending his crown.

Day’s suds-soaked shot

That Jason Day’s drive at the first went left is not a shock; that side is a common bailout for players on the opening tee. What makes Day’s shot unique is where his second landed: into a patron’s beer.

The 2015 PGA champ’s approach sailed to the right, clattered around the Georgia pines, hit a patron’s shoulder and landed in a libation. Told by an official that Day needed to identify his ball, the fan obliged, downing the drink to the amusement of his fellow patrons and Day.

Unfortunately for Day, he was unable to save par from the suds-soaked spot, walking away with a bogey. The rest of his front nine wasn’t much better, making the turn in 40 and finishing with a 75. But at least he had a story to cheers to after the round.

Source: Golfdigest.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods was on the driving range Tuesday at the Masters after playing nine holes in a foursome that included Phil Mickelson when Rory McIlroy sidled up and made him laugh. McIlroy said he had told Woods, “I never thought I’d see the day: Tiger and Phil playing a practice round at Augusta.”

Yes, it was hardly practice as usual at Augusta National when Mickelson and Woods, the game’s great rivals who had circled each other like birds of prey for more than two decades, played nine holes together ahead of a major for the first time in their storied careers.

It was Mickelson’s idea, and Woods embraced it. “We enjoyed it,” Woods said.

This very public thawing of their relationship proved an irresistible attraction at Augusta National, where, strangely, birdsong is heard but birds are rarely seen. That’s what made the sight at the 13th hole doubly surreal. As Mickelson and Woods were playing the 510-yard par 5, a large crane strutted across the fairway.

The crane joined the huge gallery in time to see Woods hit his second shot to within 40 feet of the pin. The roar after Woods stepped up and sank the eagle putt was deafening. The crowd erupted again after he made a much shorter attempt for another eagle at 15. When the noise quieted to a loud murmur, one patron remarked, “It sounds like Sunday and it’s only a practice round.”

Mickelson and Woods beat the other half of the foursome, Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, and the Belgian Thomas Pieters, in a contest that wasn’t close. “It was very loud and very fun and they hit some real good shots,” Couples said. “Wow.”

Mickelson wore a long-sleeved, button-down shirt that inspired a joke from his playing partner. “The only thing that was missing was a tie,” Woods said.

Woods has gotten the better of Mickelson on the course many more times than not, but according to their peers, it is a tossup as to who is ahead in the war of wit.

“It’s pretty even,” said Jordan Spieth, who has heard them up close at Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups.

He added, “Tiger has more accolades than just about anybody in the sport — you know, nobody wants to go out there and just say, ‘I’ve won this or this or this or this,’ and Phil’s kind of better at getting under people’s skin.”

Woods, 42, is an introverted only child. Mickelson, five years his senior, is an extroverted firstborn with two siblings. The one important thing they have in common — a burning desire to win — is probably the primary factor behind their lack of closeness all these years. Remember: Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer became fast friends only after they stopped banging heads on the golf course.

“Oh, man, he’s very, very, competitive,” Woods said of Mickelson. “He’s feisty. He’s determined. He always wants to win.”

Woods, of course, could have been describing the man in the mirror. Justin Thomas, whom Woods mentored while on the mend from multiple back surgeries, played a practice round with him on Monday. Thomas noted a change in Woods’s demeanor as they prepared to compete with each other. Woods, he said, was “a little harder to get stuff out of than when he was hurt and I was asking him questions.”

Mickelson has tour victories in four decades, but younger players like Thomas, the reigning P.G.A. champion, almost universally looked up to Woods when they were growing up.

“He was winning about every other tournament he played in,” Thomas explained.

In some ways, though, Mickelson had the more auspicious start to his career, winning his first PGA Tour title when he was still an amateur. He has won 43 Tour titles, including five majors, while Woods has 79 tour wins, including 14 majors.

If Mickelson hadn’t played in the same era as Woods, he might have “10 to 12 majors,” Couples said.

Mickelson isn’t so sure. “It’s very possible that that’s the case,” he said, “and it’s also possible that he brought out the best in me and forced me to work harder and focus to ultimately achieve the success that I’ve had.”

Six golfers in their 40s have won a Masters title. Led by Mickelson and Woods, at least a half-dozen here this week have a chance to become the seventh. The others include the 2007 champion, Zach Johnson, 42; Charley Hoffman, 41, who led after the first two rounds last year; Paul Casey, 40, who has top-six finishes in each of the past three years; and Ian Poulter, 42, who secured the final berth with a playoff victory Sunday in Houston.

After Mickelson won the World Golf Championships event in Mexico City last month in a playoff against Thomas, Woods described Mickelson’s first victory since 2013 as “very, very cool to watch.”

Woods tied for second a week later at the Valspar Championship outside Tampa, and Mickelson said he sent Woods a text message after he played his way into contention. Mickelson said he had told Woods that it felt “like it was a different time continuum, because I found myself pulling so hard for him.”

This week they are less rivals than two men united against Father Time, a much more formidable opponent than Couples and Pieters combined.

“I find that I want him to play well,” Mickelson said, “and I’m excited to see him play so well.”

At the start of the practice round, Woods teed off first. Someone asked how the group had decided who got that honor. An impish smile creased Mickelson’s face.

“We just went right in order,” he said. “He has four jackets, I have three jackets, Fred, then Thomas.”

Mickelson winked. “It’s a respect thing.”

Source: nytimes.com