PONTE VEDRA (AFP) – Tiger Woods did not hesitate in accepting long-time arch rival Phil Mickelson throwing down the gauntlet in a “high stake winner-take-all” showdown call at this week’s US PGA Players Championship.
Woods, a 14-time major champion, and Mickelson, a five-time major winner, are paired along with fellow American Rickie Fowler in the opening two rounds of this week’s event at TPC Sawgrass.
It marks the first time they have been paired together since the second round of the 2014 PGA Championship, when Woods shot 74 and Mickelson 67.
Woods and Mickelson have found themselves grouped together on 32 occasions. Mickelson has shot a lower round 15 times, Woods 14 times and they have matched scores on three occasions.
Mickelson spoke Tuesday of his wish that he and Woods simply “bypass the ancillary stuff” at the Players in favor of a head-to-head matchup.
“I look at the cover of the newspaper and the pairing is on there and the excitement that has been going on around here, it gets me thinking, why don’t we just bypass all the ancillary stuff of a tournament and just go head-to-head and just have kind of a high stake winner-take-all match,” Mickelson said with a smile.
“Now, I don’t know if he wants a piece of me,” the left-hander added with a grin. “But I just think it would be something that would be really fun for us to do, and I think there would be a lot of interest in it if we just went straight to the final round.”
Woods responded to Mickelson, declaring with a smile of his own: “I’m definitely not against that and we’ll play for whatever makes him uncomfortable.”
Woods, 42, also spoke of his admiration for Mickelson and particularly his attention when Woods was away for most of the past two years dealing with his nagging back injuries.
“Phil and I have always had great banter and we always give each other needle but our relationship certainly has gotten a lot closer with me being a vice-captain on the last couple of (Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup) teams,” Woods said.
“We’ve had very lengthy conversations about things, and not just about pairings, but things in general.
“And when I was trying to deal with a nerve in my back, and trying to come back and trying to play, I wasn’t very good. He always texted me some encouraging words.”
Mickelson singled out Woods as the most “remarkable” golfer in the history of game and this despite Jack Nicklaus winning a record 18 majors.
“I don’t think anybody today who wasn’t there who witnessed Tiger in the early 2000s, or I don’t think anybody before will see that level of play again,” Mickelson said.
“It was the most remarkable golf in the history of the game and I think it’s unrepeatable. It was that good.
“I go back to 2000 and the US Open and I look at his performance as being the greatest golf I’ve ever witnessed and has ever been played.”
Woods won that US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes and the record-shattering romp launched a run forever known as the “Tiger Slam” in which he also captured the 2000 British Open, becoming at 24 the youngest player to complete a career Grand Slam, the 2000 PGA Championship and 2001 Masters to hold all four major titles at once.
“We’ve always had a mutual respect over the years, and I’ve always appreciated what he’s done for the game of golf,” Mickelson said. “Fifteen years ago, my record against him sucked, and now it’s OK. I’m doing better as time has gone on.”