Until the recent emergence of budding star Rory McIlroy, nothing on the PGA Tour was bigger, more entertaining or downright exhilarating than the rivalry between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Today, the two are still the most polarizing figures in golf, but clashes between them no longer dominate the landscape of the sport.
Woods and Mickelson will undoubtedly go down as the best players in their era. Both have established themselves as such by winning major championships.
Mickelson has four, which is tied with Ernie Els for the second most majors won by any active golfer. Ahead of the two by a wide margin is Woods, who has captured 14 major titles in his career. In fact, had it not been for Woods' reign atop the world of golf, Mickelson would more than likely outpace Els.
With resumes like that, it is only natural for the pair to have built a long-standing rivalry. Neither is particularly fond of the other, though as of late, things have been far less testy between them.
Everything started back in 1996, the year Woods turned professional. Mickelson already had nine wins to his name, while Woods began to take the world by storm by notching a pair of victories as a 21-year old rookie.
The following year, Woods became the youngest player ever to win a major championship. He finished 12 shots ahead of the field at the 1997 Masters, which left Mickelson with a title of his own: The best player without a major title.
Tiger continued to dominate the PGA over the next four years before the two rivals finally slugged it out in the final pairing of a major.
While Mickelson had racked up several second or third-place finishes in majors, Woods had already accumulated five major titles, including three straight entering the 2001 Masters.
Entering the final round, Woods (-12) led Mickelson (-11) by one shot. Tiger got the better of Phil with a closing round 68, which allowed him to finish three shots ahead of Mickelson and two strokes in front of David Duval. The victory allowed Woods to complete the "Tiger Slam."
All of the winning by Woods must have got to Mickelson in 2003. Tiger tacked on two more major championships to his already stuffed resume, while Mickelson's drought continued.
Mickelson referred to Woods' Nike clubs as "inferior equipment," and that "Tiger is the only one who could overcome the equipment he is stuck with." (via ESPN)
Months later, Mickelson laid claim to his first major title at the 2004 Masters. Woods finished tied at No. 22, but Mickelson finally breaking through on one of golf's four biggest stages only fueled the fire of the rivalry.
Everything between the two seemed to reach a breaking point in the 2004 Ryder Cup. Woods and Mickelson were paired together for two matches and lost both. Neither one looked comfortable playing with one another.
The 2005 Masters turned out to be the start of something great for both Mickelson and Woods. Mickelson had to slip the fabled green jacket on Woods at the conclusion of the tournament. Tiger won the British Open that year, while Mickelson won the PGA Championship. It was the year of the rivals.
The duo also had one of their most memorable pairings at the 2005 Ford Championship at Doral. Woods bested Mickelson by three strokes with a final round score of 66 to take the tournament title.
Lefty would avenge the defeat at Augusta National in 2006, however. Mickelson came in three shots ahead of Woods to win the Masters, forcing Tiger to hand Phil the green jacket. Awkward!
The 2007 Deustche Bank Championship provided golf fans with another Tiger-Phil showdown. The two played together for three of the four rounds, including Sunday, with Mickelson besting Woods by a pair of strokes. Tiger responded by winning the Fed Ex Cup.
One of the most highly-touted meetings between the arch-rivals came in the opening two rounds of the 2008 U.S. Open. Woods and Mickelson were accompanied by Adam Scott in a pairing of the first, second and third-ranked golfers in the world.
Mickelson struggled through rounds of 75 and 71, while Woods carded a 72 and 68. Three days later, Tiger won his 14th and final major in a 19-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate.
The rivalry swung heavily in the favor of Mickelson after Woods' extramarital affair scandal. Since 2009, the two have been paired together seven times. Mickelson has scored better than Woods in five of those rounds.
No matchup between the two provided more theater than when they were in the same grouping for the final round of the 2009 Masters. Neither one went on to win the tournament, but both provided plenty of excitement on the front nine before fading down the stretch.
Woods eagled No. 8, while Mickelson holed six birdies. Both were unable to sustain their hot starts, though, and could not catch the eventual champion, Angel Cabrera.
Overall, Tiger and Phil have played together on 30 different occasions. The series stands at 13-13-4, so this year's Masters could provide a thrilling tiebreaker if the two play well enough to meet up on the weekend.
Tiger vs. Phil will long be remembered as one of golf's greatest rivalries. Woods may have the edge when it comes to major titles, but there is a score to be settled in the overall series. It should be fun to watch when the two get the chance to break the tie.
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