Sport Golf

Friday 23 February 2018

American idols Mickelson and Tiger aim to rediscover their vintage class

Tiger Woods: 'To come back and do what I did at Augusta gave me a lot of confidence going forward'
Tiger Woods: 'To come back and do what I did at Augusta gave me a lot of confidence going forward'

Kevin Garside

After death and taxes, is there anything more certain than the relentless hope of men past their prime? For much of the past 20 years those twin pillars of American golf, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, have set the agenda. They continue to do so in 2015 but no longer do the terms of reference embrace victory, other than in their own imaginations - and in the hearts of America.

Mickelson turned 45 on Tuesday, the same age as Hale Irwin when he won his third and final US Open. Irwin remains the oldest winner of America's national tournament, yet Mickelson persists with the idea that victory in the only major he has never won might still be his. The 65 he shot last Sunday to tie for third at the St Jude Classic was seen as evidence of a new dawn breaking, rather than an anomalous spike in an otherwise downward trend.

Woods at 39 simply can't let go of the player he was, though the numbers severed ties long ago. His last major victory came in 2008 in this event at Torrey Pines.

He posted his highest score as a pro in his last event, 85, on the third day at the Memorial Tournament. Yet after a two-month self-imposed hiatus after withdrawing at Torrey Pines, he returned at the Masters to claim a top-20 finish.

The glass being half full, it was the Masters that Woods emphasised in making the argument for his renewal, not the failures. He is hard-wired to see in trends the upward momentum, not the reverse gear.

"This year certainly has been a struggle," he said yesterday. "But for me to go through what I went through at Torrey and Phoenix, to come back and do what I did at Augusta gave me a lot of confidence going forward."

While Tiger has slipped to 195 in the world rankings, Mickelson is at least holding on to his top-20 station despite failing to record a victory anywhere since his fifth major success at Muirfield two years ago. To his credit Mickelson advances with a hint of caution nowhere to be seen in Woods' landscape, though we take with a pinch of salt his denial of a sense of urgency to get it done at 45.

"I don't feel that urgency you talk about," he said. "Something I really would love to do is complete the career Grand Slam. I'm in the best shape I've been in. I haven't had any really long-term or debilitating injuries to speak of. So if I continue to do what I've done the last eight months or so, there's no reason why I couldn't play at a high level for a while."

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