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The Early Lead
Posted at 09:25 AM ET, 02/13/2012

Phil Mickelson has Tiger Woods’s number. Bring on the majors.


Phil Mickelson’s final day at Pebble Beach had him smiling. Which is more than Tiger Woods could say. (Eric Risberg / AP)
Tiger Woods came into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am saying all the right things about his golf game. “Everything is kind of headed in the right direction.”

Then Sunday happened.

Woods entered the final day of the tournament four shots off the lead and two ahead of his rival and final-round partner Phil Mickelson. This is typically Woods’s turf, with his good-luck red shirt, but he “just could not get comfortable” while Mickelson was administering a knockout punch with a relaxed, formidable round that extended his recent mastery of Woods. Mickelson shot a 64 and won the tournament; Woods finished in a tie for 15th with a 75. (Only four golfers had a higher score Sunday.)

“I just feel very inspired playing with him,” Mickelsons said. “I love playing with him. ... He brings out some of my very best golf.”

It has been 29 months since Woods won a PGA Tour event and, over the last five years, Mickelson has had his number.
Tiger Woods on the ninth fairway. (Eric Risberg / AP)
The shift has been dramatic, but Mickelson is philosophical about it. “It’s only been the past five years. Before, I got spanked pretty good. Let’s not forget the big picture here; I’ve been beat up,” he said. “But the last five years, I’ve been able to get some of my best golf out when we play together.”

Now, can Woods inspire some of Mickelson’s “best golf” in the majors? Mickelson, a fan darling who has inspired ridiculously intense mancrushes despite (or perhaps because of) so often playing second fiddle to Tiger, knows about reworking his game and wasn’t about to gloat. He confessed he’d had “some doubt” over the last few weeks about his own game and, besides, it isn’t his nature. At least not publicly.

“Watching [Woods] play today, it's going to change in one week,” said Mickelson, who passed Tom Watson with his 40th Tour victory. “You could see, it's such a night-and-day difference. ... He never hooked a shot. He used to hook, you were waiting for it, and now he's just striping it right at his target with a tiny little fade, just like he used to do.

“And his iron play looked extremely sharp. I know the score wasn't what he wanted, and I know he didn't putt the way he wanted to, but you could tell that he's really close and all it takes is one week.”

Maybe. But whose chances are better going into the Masters, the first of the majors: Mickelson’s or Woods’s?

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By  |  09:25 AM ET, 02/13/2012

 
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