News & Opinion

Hey, Tiger: For Presidents Cup fill-in, why not put Phil in?

Former rivals have mellowed in recent years, so they’d make for upbeat pairing Down Under – plus, the event could use a boost

You can’t always get what you want.

I forget which British prime minister said that line. Probably Churchill or Jagger. But let’s not dwell on esoteric trivia. Let’s dwell on what I want ... and can’t get.

What I want is Phil-harmonic convergence. I want more Phil, as in Mickelson, and I want him at the Presidents Cup. I wanted U.S. captain Tiger Woods to show me something with his four wild-card picks. I wanted him to be less conservative, I wanted him to think outside the box, I wanted him to take a wild ride with a leprechaun on a unicorn. I wanted Captain Woods to pick Mickelson.

Phil Mickelson Tiger Woods
Phil Mickelson (left) and Tiger Woods will renew their rivalry in a match to benefit coronavirus-relief efforts.

There were two reasons for Captain Woods to select Mickelson (and a lot more reasons not to choose him).

One, a golf tournament hasn’t been invented yet that isn’t better with Phil and Tiger in it, and the Presidents Cup is one notch above a made-for-TV event. I know: Mickelson didn’t play well enough to earn a spot on the team, and he even conceded that Woods shouldn’t use a pick on him. At 49, Mickelson found that his game didn’t come together despite all the work that he put into it. But the presence of Mickelson, whose streak of 26 consecutive years of staying in the world’s top 50 players came to an end (“In other golf news,” Nov. 3), would add something special in Australia for the Presidents Cup. It would add TV ratings. It would add interest. It would force me to read my TiVo instruction manual.

Two, the real reason I wanted more Mickelson is that once he was on the Presidents Cup team, I wanted to see him tee it up in the opening session with his playing partner, Tiger Woods, playing-captain.

It would have been a genius, compelling play.

By passing Mickelson, Woods missed a golden opportunity to set history right, create some closure and, most important, provide the sizzling entertainment factor that this Presidents Cup lacks when it’s on the air in America at zero-dark-thirty.

Think about this still Dynamic Duo. Everyone remembers their ill-fated showing when Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton decided to make them an unbeatable pairing at the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills. Oops. The supposed Dream Team turned into Jekyll and Hyde, with both players performing the role of the evil Mr. Hyde.

The Dream Team lost twice on the Ryder Cup’s opening day, which helped spark Europe to victory in an absolute, absolutely embarrassing runaway.

That Dream Team pairing was in the hands of Sutton. Then, Woods wanted to keep all of his rivals at arm’s length, to keep them duly intimidated and not show even a hint of weakness. He wasn’t going to share any of his state secrets with another player, least of all Mickelson, the only competitor who was almost (but not really) in his league. It was Tiger Versus The World.

Mickelson wanted to get the best of Woods in the worst way. He’d been the heir apparent to greatness on the PGA Tour until Woods arrived in 1996 and changed everything. From then on, Mickelson was second fiddle. In 2004, the Americans still hadn’t found the secret to team play or what makes good teammates. Mickelson didn’t help by switching equipment brands the week before the Ryder Cup – seriously, who pulls that stunt? – and then practicing by himself at a different course – seriously, who pulls that stunt? – during one of the Ryder Cup practice-round days.

Mickelson-Woods wasn’t ready to be a pairing at any level, and it showed immediately. Mickelson’s opening tee shot flared way right; Woods backed him up by blocking his tee shot way right. Meanwhile, Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington birdied the opening four holes. It only got worse.

When Woods credited Europe’s win that week to making “a boat-load of putts,” Montgomerie tweaked the Dream Team’s obvious awkward vibes by saying, “It’s amazing how many putts you can hole if you can ask your partner the line.”

At the Presidents Cup, Woods would be in control of this Dream Team pairing. It might even be fun. Tiger and Phil have kissed and made up, sort of, although it’s probably more of a case that they’re older, they’ve cemented their legacies and Woods is more of a real person than a driven golfer and Mickelson is no longer a threat.

Also, it’s the Presidents Cup, not the Ryder Cup. This is a one-sided contest that could use a little more competitiveness. If Woods paired himself with Mickelson a couple of times and they lost as a team, big deal. If the Americans lost the Presidents Cup, big deal. In the long run, an American loss might generate more interest in the matches, just as finally losing the America’s Cup in sailing suddenly created interest in that event, at least temporarily.

Ah, but I didn’t get what I wanted. I got a fill-in, not Phil-in, for the Presidents Cup. Woods picked Tony Finau, Patrick Reed, Gary Woodland and the Zozo Championship winner (whose name is Woods). Captain Woods picked nothing but chalk (“Woods plays it perfectly with Presidents Cup picks,” Nov. 7).

Maybe there is one wild card waiting to be played. Brooks Koepka, your PGA Championship winner and the No. 1 player in the world, went home early from the Asia Swing to have surgery on his knee. Koepka might not be ready to play in Australia, and even if he is ready, he might be smarter to give his knee more recovery time and gear up for 2020.

Captain Woods may have to go to his bullpen. Some media types campaigned for Rickie Fowler to be a wild-card selection and then suggested that he could replace Koepka. Fowler hasn’t played a tournament since late August. He got married, went on a honeymoon and had planned to play the Mayakoba Classic this week in Mexico but withdrew due to an intestinal illness.

There’s a left-hander in Tiger’s bullpen who played three times in October and shot 21 under par, although he failed to finish among the top 25 in any of the events.

I’m not suggesting that Mickelson is the Best Player Available or the logical Next Man Up. All I’m saying is I want one more – one last? – helping of Phil.

The only reason to make the call to Mickelson is if Woods will man up and make Mickelson his wingman in best ball, alternate shot or both. History wants the encore, the world wants it and, oh yeah, it would make this the most memorable Presidents Cup since the year the Americans and Internationals fought to a draw in South Africa despite a rule that precluded such an ending.

You can’t always get what you want, just like you don’t always want what you get.

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