Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. In the history of golf rivalries, has there ever been a closer, more controversial opposition (besides Happy Gilmore and Shooter McGavin, of course)? Although these two are friendly enough interpersonally, their fans have made quite a show of championing their favorite player and arguing against each other.
No matter what, these two PGA pros are two of the best golfers to ever play the game. But how do you make an argument about who, once and for all, is the better player? It depends on what criteria you use to draw your comparisons.
By the long-term numbers, Woods may initially seem to come out on top. With 79 career PGA victories to Mickelson’s 42, the results don’t lie. And Mickelson’s best year in 1996 with four wins hardly compares to Tiger’s best year (2000) with nine wins, though neither comes close to record-holder, Byron Nelson’s 18 wins in one year. But if you look at career top ten finishes, Woods’ 186 is neck and neck with Mickelson’s 185. And Mickelson’s best ever tournament score inches ahead of Woods’ at a staggering 60 versus 61 strokes. So how do you say, definitively, who gets the winning title?
Recent hits and misses
In more recent years, Woods has fallen short of the kind of performances, like his iconic masters win in 1997, which once made him the most recognizable name in professional golf. Though 2012 and 2013 were great years for him (he won the top title and a multi-million dollar purse both years), 2014 saw him drop by more than 200 spots in the overall FedEx Cup standings, and he hasn’t had a podium finish since.
Mickelson hasn’t been playing his absolute best golf in the last few years, but he has definitely come up with a steadier performance than Woods has. After finishing with an awesome fourth place FedEx Cup standing in 2013 (under Woods), Mickelson dropped 45th and then 51st in 2014 and 2015. However, 2016 saw him rocket back up to eighth place in the standings, with several second and third place wins in the last few years.
What’s in the future?
This year has seen Woods experience a disappointing series of missteps. First, missing the 2015-2016 masters season because of two difficult back surgeries. Then, after planning a comeback return in 2017, Woods released a statement saying he had to pull out of this years’ masters tournament.
“I did about everything I could to play,” lamented Woods, “but my back rehabilitation didn’t allow me the time to get tournament ready.” Woods mentioned he was particularly sad to miss this special anniversary year of his record-breaking win at Augusta in 1997 when he was only 21 years old. On the other side of things, Mickelson has been playing solidly this calendar year. And prior to Sergio Garcia’s exciting gallery win at Augusta this April, had expressed confidence that he could, in fact, take it all at the masters this year, to become a four-time winner and the oldest masters winner ever.
It’s difficult to say what will become of the Woods and Mickelson rivalry since so much of Woods’ future seems to be riding on his physical recovery. Mickelson, on the other hand, seems to be maintaining a very positive career velocity as he moves closer to retirement. If Woods fails to recover, Mickelson should be able to clinch the top spot. But, if Woods can power through his health problems to make a full comeback, he certainly has more tour years in him — and more chances to break more records.
Note: All official player stats are sourced from www.pgatour.com.
— C. Pedroja