2022 PGA Championship: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson reverse roles a year after Lefty’s shock victory

It’s impossible to think of Tiger Woods playing the 2022 PGA Championship and not consider the absence of his most acclaimed contemporary, Phil Mickelson. It’s also impossible to think of any of them and not consider how absurd it would be to insinuate, 51 weeks ago after Mickelson won the 2021 event, that Tiger would be the one to start prep work early in Southern Hills, while Lefty continued a month-long sabbatical for non-health reasons.

The two have always been as intertwined as they are contrasting. Literal books have been written on the subject, and you can list the ways in which they are polar opposites almost reflexively. They make oil and water seem compatible.

Tiger, right-handed, is singular and always lonely. Mickelson, left-handed, is almost incapable of being understood out of the context of always having people around him. Tiger is conservative and almost unobtrusive on the course. Mickelson is, uh, no. Tiger pushed his body to the limit, and it betrayed him. Mickelson rarely lost time through injury. If you drew such divergent contemporary rivals, no one would believe you.

Their only common bond was success: earning, making money, and doing it for an extraordinarily long time. As their peers aged in golf lives other than the PGA Tour, both achieved excellence. Despite a combined age of 97, Woods and Mickelson Both won major championship trophies more recently than Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. That’s an absolutely remarkable feat for anyone, let alone two guys who started playing PGA Tour events when their younger counterparts were in diapers (or not yet born).

Mickelson was treading water this time last year. He entered the 2021 PGA Championship week without finishing in the top 20 since August 2020. He was playing bad golf and had more missed cuts (three) than the top 25 (two) in the seven events leading up to that second major. year . When he went to the island of Kiawah, he was a champion in name only (and a big one at that), and yet he did the one thing he had done that week for the previous three decades. He showed up. He went to the first tee on Thursday and believed something special was going to happen. It was a comically deluded level of self-confidence, to be sure, but it also worked.

This time, 52 weeks ago, you would have howled at the idea of ​​Mickelson winning that PGA. You probably would have called me to work if I had foreseen. And you would be right to do so. Then, impossibly, Lefty took down Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen in a place built for men half his age.

Woods, meanwhile, was simply trying to walk this time last year. He recently recounted days in his backyard where he lay on the grass listening to the birds singing, simply elated to be alive.

That’s how they both operate. Tiger takes time to recover and appears when he’s ready. Lefty never stops showing up. Their win count is, in a way, a war of attrition. Woods appeared much less than Mickelson throughout his career (current world tournament count goes to Mickelson, 712-419), but he earned a lot more when he was there (22% to 7% for Tiger).

Phil’s great skill is showing. Tiger’s is decimating the field when he does.

The back half of Tiger’s story is the opposite of Phil’s. When Woods played, he was great. That was always true. He has never had periods of bad play in the last 25 years. He has had many periods out of play, however, for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to injury, scandal, recovery, and simply wanting to be with his family more than wanting to perform for a sporting nation.

As Mickelson kept appearing, Woods kept disappearing.

Now, it’s Lefty who hasn’t been heard from in months. The contrast continues with Mickelson and Woods, except they have completely switched roles. Like Tiger last year, we don’t know when Lefty will resurface, when we’ll hear from him again, And if let’s hear it again. There is a tragedy in Mickelson’s story that Woods can certainly relate to.

What we do know is that you can’t win if you don’t fight, and you can’t fight if you don’t show up. If Mickelson taught us anything about great historic players at last year’s PGA Championship, it was exactly that.

Woods is appearing at the PGA Championship the same way Mickelson appeared at last year’s event: no chance of winning. He’s showing up because something might happen. He is showing up because he loves golf and is serious about his status as champion of this event.

Woods claims he doesn’t show up to play unless he believes he has a chance to win, but there’s nothing in his play over the past 18 months or his performance at the Masters that suggests he has a prayer.

Then again, the exact same sentence could have been written about Mickelson this time a year ago.

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