Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson: Who Is Number One in Our Hearts?

Matt CastonguayContributor IJanuary 28, 2010

SAN DIEGO - JUNE 12:  Phil Mickelson watches his tee shot on the 18th hole as Tiger Woods looks on  during the first round of the 108th U.S. Open at the Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course) on June 12, 2008 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

In America we love the underdog. We love our teams and we appreciate greatness when it presents itself.

Tiger Woods is the greatest we've ever seen in golf or perhaps, in any other sport. His foil forever has been Phil Mickelson, the everyman with immortal talent. Mickelson has spent his entire career in the shadow of Tiger Woods, never rising higher than number two in the world rankings.

This year may be his best chance yet to move up in the rankings to where he already is in our hearts; number one.

Tiger is (er, was) perfect. He was (er, is) the assassin. He is the marksmen, the sharp shooter, the guy you want putting the 15-footer for your life. Phil is, in many ways, the average Joe's hero. He's the risk taker. He's you and me with a sponsorship deal and talent. Tiger is appreciated more than he is loved. Phil is loved more than he is appreciated.

Until recently, Tiger was human only in a biological sense. He never got in trouble. He stayed out of the tabloids. He was the model pitchman and in almost as many commercials as Peyton Manning and Billy Mays.

On the course, his focus was unmatched, his grit and toughness, unquestioned (or if it were ever questioned, that stopped following the 2007 US Open) and it seemed like with every shot he made, we were holding our breath, waiting to witness history.

With Tiger, you know you're watching greatness. Whether you're witnessing a run-of-the-mill 18-stroke win in the (insert local company name) classic in Anywhere, USA or you're watching him mount a four-stroke comeback on Sunday at Augusta; There is no doubt in your mind this is greatness.

Obviously in the last month or so, unless you've been in a coma, you've heard about the "transgressions" which have effected not only his career, but permanently tarnished his previously picture-perfect legacy. The question now is how will he be received upon his return? Now that it's come out that he is in "sex addiction rehabilitation," will there be a semblance of sympathy when he returns? How will he be remembered when it is all said and done?

How about Phil? Phil has been about as human as you can get. His wife and mother both battled/are battling cancer. He famously said, "I'm such an idiot" after his Winged Foot US Open collapse, verbalizing a thought that anyone who's ever walked 18 before has had.

His maverick attitude toward shot making helps create the affinity we have for him because who among us hasn't lined up a three-iron punch through a six-inch window off of hard pan and thought, "I got this."

Part of the lure with Mickelson is that you don't know what you're going to get. Sure, you're watching greatness then, too, but a different kind of greatness. Phil is the people's champion. He's the guy you want to root for because he reminds you of you if you had game.

With Phil, you don't know whats going to happen. He could pull away and dazzle you with his short game or he could spray the driver left and right all day and crash and burn in a fashion only rivaled by the Hindenburg. Either way, you're glued to your television set.

Phil hasn't really had any off-course transgressions and in general, the public has embraced him openly in everything he's done. When something has occurred in his personal life, we usually hear about it from him and in a timely manner.

He's lovable. He's quirky. He's got a t-rex head in his home-office. He may be weird but we know he's weird, and that connects us to him. What do we know about Tiger? Before this whole sex addict debacle, nothing really.

And that's where Tiger loses us. Its not that he's imperfect; its that we had no idea he was imperfect. Think about Charles Barkley; Pete Rose, Michael Jordan. We know these guys are imperfect and we forgive them because they involve us.

Charles Barkley has been caught with hookers and Pete Rose bet on the game he loved; Michael Jordan is divorced and went through hearings to find out whether or not he owed an ex-mistress money and we still love and appreciate them. The difference between these three and Tiger Woods is that we knew nothing of Woods' personal life.

Sure, that's the way Woods wanted it, but now it seems, it may have hurt him. The revelations about his personal life have come as such a shock to everyone that the negative reaction and the amount of press attention the incident received was magnified.

If it came out that Charles Barkley or Michael Jordan had (insert giant number here) girlfriends in so many places, the reaction would be negative, but probably wouldn't lead Good Morning America.

When it comes to Tiger and Phil think about this. Even those of you who claim to love Tiger, think about it. When Tiger and Phil were paired together in the final round of last years Masters and were each mounting a run toward the top of the leader board, who were you pulling for? Who was the "bad guy?" I'd be willing to bet, at least subconsciously, you wanted to see Phil take down Tiger, if not go on to win the whole tournament.

Tiger is an immortal and, as he's proved repeatedly, Phil isn't; and that's why we love him. 

Tiger and Phil will be inextricably linked forever. They came onto the scene around the same time, they were/are the two greatest players of the era. They've dueled head-to-head in majors and on Sunday afternoons in minor tourneys near you.

They've been rivals and friends, teammates and opponents. The one difference between the two is that Phil will be embraced by the masses forever. He will be our generations Arnold Palmer. Tiger on the other hand, well, the jury is still out.