The event will capitalize on a relationship that has thawed after years of frosty competitiveness, and it’s a nod to the fact that Woods turns 43 in December and Mickelson is 48. It’s now or never.
And who doesn’t like money?
“It’s a ridiculous amount of money,” Mickelson told Golf.com last month. “No matter how much money you have, this amount will take both of us out of our comfort zone.”
Masters champion Patrick Reed had perhaps the best idea: Let each guy put up his own money. Woods is No. 1 in all-time earnings and Mickelson comes in second with $87,000,000, according to ESPN. Woods, of course, wasn’t going for that.
“Of course that’s what he would like to see,” Woods said with a smile last month. “I would like to see him put up that money.”
Woods and Mickelson have mellowed in recent years with a rivalry that dates back to junior golf, and there was a time, Mickelson admits, when it “sucked” to have to play against Woods. They were grouped together in the first two rounds of the Players Championship this spring and their relationship has warmed to the point where they could do a little playful trash talking, with Mickelson suggesting a big-payday showdown.
“I love that we’re paired together, I think it’s really fun. We haven’t been paired together in years,” Mickelson said then. “As I look at the cover of the newspaper and the pairing is on there and the excitement that’s 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?”
“Now, I don’t know if he wants a piece of me,” he cracked, “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 had the perfectly snarky response: “Well, first of all, big picture,” he grinned.
That big picture would include Woods’s 14 major championships and Mickelson’s five. A reporter attempted to remind Woods that he’s only one up on Mickelson head-to-head, which prompted Woods to respond. “How many times have we both — No, no, have we won on tour?”
That would be a commanding 79-43 “edge” for Woods.
“It’s going to be fun playing with him again. We have both done this throughout our careers. We have always looked at each other and said, ‘Where is he on the board?’” Woods said of the Players grouping in May. “That’s what Arnold [Palmer] and Jack [Nicklaus] used to do all the time. They’d always try and find, ‘Okay, what’s — what’s Jack at?’ And the same thing with Jack, ‘Where’s Arnie at?’ It’s been either way for our entire careers.
“Now that we have an opportunity to play against each other again on the first day when the gun blows, it’s going to be fun. I enjoy either competing with him on the first or second day or if it’s the last day. It’s always been a blast, and he’s one hell of a competitor, and it’s always going to be a challenge to try and beat him.”
If this all sounds dimly familiar, there used to be a Skins Game on the PGA Tour from 1983-2008 and Woods participated three times, in 2001, ’04 and ’05. He was the runner-up each time. The first Skins game featured Gary Player beating Tom Watson; in the second, Jack Nicklaus beat Watson. Four golfers were invited to compete and played to win individual holes (skins) in a match play format. Each hole was assigned a monetary value and the golfer who won the hole with the best score won the money for the hole. If there was a tie, the money carried over to the next hole. A tie after the final hole brought a playoff that didn’t end until one golfer won a hole outright.
In the interim, the two will tee off Thursday in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. Woods tees off at 10:20 a.m. (Eastern) and Mickelson at 2 p.m.