Woods-Mickelson pairing lacks compelling drama

Updated: August 21, 2006, 12:34 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Well, it wasn't exactly the Texas Rangers-Los Angeles Angels, was it? No Brawl By The Clubhouse Wall. No first-tee staredowns. No nothing, not even a 3-wood to the groin.

Instead, the much-anticipated, breathlessly-hyped Thursday PGA Championship pairing of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and what's-his-name was as exciting as an oil change. Woods didn't even have the decency to fling his headcover Frank during the middle of Lefty's backswing.

In short, me and thousands of other golf honks walked halfway across Illinois (the approximate distance from Medinah's wonderfully funky clubhouse to the No. 10 tee box, where the boys began their early morning round) to see Woods and Mickelson play nice. It was like watching Superman and Lex Luthor share a cab.

Phil Mickelson, right, and Tiger Woods
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonWoods and Mickelson each shot 3-under 69 in the first round.

Anyway, for two guys who supposedly would like to stick paring knives in the back of each others knees, the No. 1-ranked Woods and No. 2-ranked Mickelson were disappointingly pleasant to each other. In fact, the threesome's invisible man -- U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilivy -- said if you didn't know any better, "you'd think they were perfectly fine, normal friends."

They aren't, of course -- friends, that is. That's because they both want the same things: another major, another page of golf history, another chance to stick it to the other. That's how they judge themselves these days, not just by victories, but by the quality and pedigree of those victories.

Anyway, said the observant Ogilivy, "have the No. 1 and 2 players ever been best friends?"

Good question. David Duval and Woods got along nicely. The same went for Nick Price and Greg Norman. Even Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus eventually found a common ground in their rivalry.

But the relationship between Woods and Mickelson is a work in progress. It isn't USA-USSR, circa Cold War, but nobody is confusing it with a buddy movie, either. Here's guessing Woods couldn't or wouldn't respect Mickelson until the guy actually won some majors -- and maybe learned how to do a sit-up. And Mickelson couldn't warm up to Woods until the Ice King quit with the You-Are-Not-Worthy routine.

"They're ultra-competitive, that's why they're the No. 1 players in the world," said Ogilvy. "I don't think Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe had too many dinners together."

There have been some signs of global warming in the Woods-Mickelson rivalry, beginning back in April, when Lefty won the Masters. During the awards ceremony, Mickelson asked the Masters patrons to observe a moment of silence for Woods' father, Earl, who was fighting what would become a losing battle against cancer. The gesture didn't go unnoticed by Woods, who patted Mickelson on the side after the ceremony.

Thursday's round didn't include anything as poignant, but there were moments when you thought they were adversaries rather than enemies. After all, there's a difference between those two words.

Both Woods and Mickelson (and Ogilvy) shot 3-under par 69s. They shot them in slightly different ways, but both players had to grind. They missed some fairways. They missed some putts. Those 69s could have been 67s.

"It was a fun day," said Mickelson.

"We're here to post a number," said Woods. "We went out there and I think we did that today."

That's it? Since when do Mickelson and Woods have fun together? Even Woods' caddy, the occasionally ornery Steve Williams, was saying, "Please," and "Thank you," to the massive gallery that followed the threesome all day. Any more pleasant and Williams would have invited everyone to his place for post-round milkshakes and popcorn.

Maybe it was all an act. Maybe they wanted us to see them smiling at each other, chatting it up on a hole or two, exchanging handshakes at round's end. Or maybe we're witnessing an actual thaw. How depressing.

"We were talking about schedule, Ryder Cup, just some stuff we have coming up," said Mickelson.

Huh? Congeniality? I liked the good ol' days of this rivalry, when Mickelson would pop off about Woods' "inferior" equipment, and then Woods would win another major. There was even a glimmer of hope earlier this week, when Mickelson's short-game coach chirped that, in essence, Lefty at his best is better than Tiger at his best.

But, sigh, Mickelson diffused that situation with some diplomatic humor and that was that. Woods also low-keyed it.

In the end, Thursday's round needed a snooze bar. Mickelson and Woods tried not to yawn about their day.

"Nothing more than the ordinary," said Mickelson.

Mickelson and Woods are paired together for Friday's round, too. It would be nice if they traded punches on the driving range. Or maybe Mickelson could sneak a few specially-marked golf balls into Woods' bag. Something in black Sharpie that reads, "Your fly's open."

Otherwise, we're stuck hoping for a miracle. Can you say Amy Mickelson- Elin Woods food fight in the clubhouse dining room?

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter