Tiger, Phil need their Duel in the Sun

Updated: August 16, 2006, 7:02 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- On the whole, golf fans are a spoiled, demanding lot. We're not talking about the inherent need for the newest 460cc mega-blaster driver or the impulsive urge to play a quick nine before dinner following a 36-hole afternoon, though each could be labeled a gluttonous pursuit of eternal enjoyment.

Instead, it's their unceasing desire for more, more, more from their icons on the professional level. A top-level golfer can barely enjoy the fruits of his labor before fans clamor for more results, more victories, more excitement.

Tiger Woods
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziCould Woods be heading for a final-round showdown with Mickelson?
Take Phil Mickelson, for example. Long considered the -- all together now! -- Best Player To Have Never Won A Major, the ebullient left-hander delighted supporters with his first major championship victory at the Masters in 2004. Seven majors later, with fans getting restless and the odometer stuck on "1", Mickelson delivered by winning last year's PGA Championship, and followed it with his second green jacket this past April for good measure.

Then there's Tiger Woods. Not that anyone ever doubted his extreme aptitude on the course, but there was that 10-major winless streak a few years back. No matter, the world's No. 1-ranked player simply triumphed in three of the next seven to quench his fans' thirst for more from their hero.

So … now what? After each claimed three of the last 11 major championships (if you're scoring at home, that's six for the world's top two golfers and five for the rest), what can Tiger and Phil do for an encore? It's the burning question from golf fans who have become spoiled by the success of the sport's best players.

How's this for an idea: Woods and Mickelson, playing together in the final pairing of a major, three shots clear of the next closest competitors as they step to the 15th tee box. Fans would be lined 20 to 25 deep against the ropes just to catch a glimpse of the two warriors. Television ratings would soar to an all-time high.

How would it end? Well, there's no telling, because we've never been treated to such a spectacle. Oh sure, there was the final round of the Masters back in 2001 when Woods extended a one-stroke lead to three over Mickelson in earning the green jacket. And we saw them get after it at Doral last year, with Tiger besting Phil by a single shot, though that was hardly a major championship atmosphere.

But that dream scenario, the one in which the two ultra-talented players and supremely divergent personalities stage their own version of Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus' Duel in the Sun at Turnberry back in 1977, has yet to come to fruition. It would mark the natural evolution of their ever-growing rivalry, the last morsel of rapacious overindulgence for golf fans who have witnessed the continued entertainment value of Woods and Mickelson.

Of course, at least we'll be treated to the storybook beginning at this week's PGA Championship, as the players will be paired together (along with fellow major champion Geoff Ogilvy) for the opening 36 holes.

"What I would love to see happen is to see us both play well and both have a chance and be paired together in later groups," Mickelson said. "That would be terrific."

His counterpart was equally cordial in comments about extending their playing partnership over the weekend. "To be able to go down the stretch in a major championship is always fun. With a talent like Phil, you always know you have to play your best in order to come out on top."

However, not everyone close to the situation has been so courteous this week. Mickelson's short-game coach Dave Pelz made major waves when he told the Chicago Tribune, "When Phil's at his best, I'm thinking nobody can beat him."

And that includes Tiger Woods?

"You bet it does," Pelz said. "If Phil's long swing is good, his short game, I believe, is the best in the world. He doesn't have a serious weakness inside 150 yards.

"I'm not saying Tiger's short game is bad. He has a great short game. But I think Phil putts more consistently than Tiger does. He has more imagination and a few more shots around the green."

A little extra fuel always helps stoke the competitive fire. When asked about Pelz's comments, Woods simply responded, "I think I'm pretty tough to beat when I'm playing well, too."

So, let's see it, fellas. Both of you bring your A-games to Medinah this week, play out of your minds for three rounds and separate yourselves from the competition. Deliver your generation's version of the Duel in the Sun to golf fans. Give 'em what they've all been waiting for. Make 'em even more spoiled than they already are.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.