Tiger Woods will be looking for revenge against Phil Mickelson on Sunday at The Match: Champions for Charity and has everything working in his favor
In the big picture of their 20-plus-year rivalry, Tiger Woods stands well above Phil Mickelson: 82 career victories to 44, 15 majors to Mickelson’s five, and 683 weeks at No. 1 to zero for Mickelson. But there’s one trophy that Mickelson holds and Woods doesn’t, and he won’t let him forget about it, either.
When Woods and Mickelson met in The Match back in November 2018, there was more than the $9 million first prize at stake. There was also bragging rights, and when Mickelson beat Tiger in extra holes, he took the golden belt back home to his trophy room, a reminder of the day he got the better of his rival.
Woods has the chance to avenge that loss on Sunday, when he and Mickelson are joined by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for The Match: Champions for Charity. And this time, unlike at Shadow Creek 18 months ago, Woods will go into the round with a big advantage.
First is the venue, which is practically in Woods’ back yard. Medalist has been Woods’ home course for the past decade. Thanks to his association with the exclusive club in Hobe Sound, Florida, it’s membership now boasts a litany of golf’s elite, from Brooks Koepka to Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas.
Woods has played hundreds of rounds at Medalist. Even some of the tee boxes are known as “Tiger Tees,” lengthening the course to 7,515 yards. He knows that the unpredictable winds that whip around the property can wreak havoc on the game of a player as wild as Mickelson. Get out of position even a little bit on this challenging Pete Dye layout and you’re in trouble.
“It all depends on if the wind blows. If the wind blows, Medalist is one of the most brutal golf courses you’ll play. If it doesn’t blow, it’s really not that bad,” Woods said in a Zoom chat with Golf Digest this week.
“The fairways are ample wide, they’re plenty big. But if you do miss the ball, it’s not going to be where it’s playable. Usually in a palmetto bush somewhere. That’s what makes it so demanding, and…the wind blows virtually every day and it changes. It comes from all different directions.”
There are some scoring opportunities at Medalist. The par-fives are reachable in two shots for players with the length of Woods and Mickelson. There are even two driveable par-fours, 11 and 14, on the back-nine. But there are also deep bunkers and water hazards on more than half the holes. The greens are fast and undulating: leave your approach on the wrong side of the flag and it will likely run off the putting surface. Accuracy and course knowledge will play a big role on Sunday, and that’s where Woods has an edge on his opponent.
Then there is the revenge factor. When all four players first sat down together to talk about The Match, Mickelson made sure the belt was perfectly in Woods’ view. Woods, though, had a response, wrapping himself in the Green Jacket he won at Augusta National last April.
Since the inaugural version of The Match, Woods has significantly outplayed Mickelson. Not only did he win the Masters, his victory at the Zozo Championship in Japan in October tied him with Sam Snead for the most all-time PGA Tour titles. Mickelson, meanwhile, has just three top-10 finishes over the last 18 months, one since February 2019.
The time off will also work in Woods’ favor. He hasn’t played since mid-February when he shot 76-77 on the weekend at the Genesis Invitational and finished last among the 68 players who made the cut. The back issues that have plagued him for years began to flare up, and Woods had to pull out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship. But with the PGA Tour on hiatus since mid-March, Woods has had the chance to get healthy and prepare for what will be his first competitive action in more than three months.
Woods and Mickelson have been the two most dominant golfers of this generation. Since Mickelson turned pro in the early 1990s, they rank first and second on tour in wins, top-10s, money earned, and majors won. Playing with Tiger actually brings out the best in Phil; his scoring average is a shot better when paired with Woods than with anyone else. In the 37 times they’ve played together in their careers, Woods has shot the better score 18 times to Mickelson’s 15, with four ties.
It’s a rivalry reminiscent of the two players who’ll join them at Medalist on Sunday. Between 2001 and 2018, either Brady or Manning represented the AFC in the Super Bowl 13 times. They’ve combined to win eight NFL MVP Awards and rank first and second in every major passing category in the postseason over the last 20 years.
What their golf games look like on Sunday, though, is anyone’s guess, including their partners.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Woods said. “This is what Phil and I do for a living. We got out and play golf. But it’s going to be interesting to see Tom and Peyton basically come out of their comfort zones…It takes a lot of courage for them to do what they’re going to do on live TV and put themselves out there. I commend them for that.”
The players have come up with a format that will keep viewers at home interested. Woods will be paired with Manning to take on Mickelson and Brady. The front-nine will be played as best ball. On the fifth hole, they’ll have to use only one club on the 408-yard par-four. Then they’ll play modified alternate shot on the back-nine. Even Charles Barkley will take his turn on a hole with $200,000 at stake. And this time there won’t be a big belt buckle and $9 million on the line: all proceeds are going to COVID-19 relief.
They all know why this round is happening: to bring a little joy to a sports world that has seen little of it for the past two months. Beating Mickelson won’t be the biggest victory of Woods’ career, or even his recent history. But it would feel sweet and maybe, just maybe, serve to silence his rival after 18 months.