Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson battling to get back to glory days on PGA Tour
Veteran duo grinding away in their 40s
They are two ageing men by the sea this week, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. A couple of guys in their 40s determined to stave off the fading light of their storied careers.
While their star power that has shined for the past quarter century remains brilliant, the two best players of their generation are in search of past brilliance, with neither one winning anywhere on the globe since 2013. But through the struggles since then, there hasn’t been any dimming of the competitive fire that burns within, and each is confident that their combined victory total of 19 major championship triumphs and 121 PGA Tour titles in all will get a revision.
The two know Father Time is undefeated, but neither believes the moment to yield is close by. Woods, now 42, says he is as healthy as he’s been in years since spinal fusion surgery last April, the fourth surgical procedure to his back since March of 2014. Mickelson, now 47, will have a constant battle with psoriatic arthritis for the rest of his life but insists he’s in better shape now than when he was in his 30s.
Optimism, they will tell you, is their 15th club in the bag.
So there they were on opposite sides of the South Course at Torrey Pines for Saturday’s third round of the Farmers Insurance Open, a bright sun on their backs and a hopeful future in front of them.
Woods, who has won on this course eight times, including his last major title in the 2008 US Open, started the day 10 shots out of the lead but was beaming as he headed to the 10th tee (his first of the day), delighted to have made the cut on the number in his first PGA Tour start in a year and just his second in 2½ years. With a final-hole birdie in Friday’s second round, he made his first cut on the Tour since the Wyndham Championship in August of 2015 and earned two more trips around the South Course that he needs to acclimate to tournament golf again.
He said he didn’t have a clue what to expect this week but he achieved his goal of playing four rounds, a momentum builder he will try and build on in his next start at the Genesis Open in three weeks.
“I have to find a rhythm to playing tournament golf again. I can play golf at home and hit certain shots, but to come out here in competition and my adrenaline goes up a little bit, it’s different,” said Woods, whose inactivity has sent his world ranking to 647th. “There are many things that I’m going to have to learn and I need more time under the fire of competition.”
Mickelson has played well since his last win, playing in the Presidents Cup three times and the Ryder Cup twice. While he hasn’t won, he’s contended often, especially when he fell just short in his historic duel with Henrik Stenson in the 2016 British Open.
Coming off a missed cut in last week’s CareerBuilder Challenge in his first start of the year, Mickelson was just as happy to see his game improve through two rounds at Torrey Pines. While his iron play – a strength of his for 25 years – has been disappointing, he stood just five shots off the pace as he stood on the first tee and was happy with his standing as the weekend arrived.
“I’ve found something in my swing and I love my equipment,” said Mickelson, who is 46th in the world and in danger of falling out of the top 50 for the first time since 1993. “I’m ready to make it a good year.”
Both provided some magic in Saturday’s round. Without firing on all cylinders, both made the turn 1 under for the day and both relied on magical recovery moments from places not called the fairway. Woods hit one fairway in his first nine holes, three greens in regulation, and still was in red numbers. Mickelson, who will play the next three weeks, hit two fairways and four greens and was still in the red.
As they have from their first days on the PGA Tour, they battled and grinded and conquered what was in front of them.
The fight continues for the two. And they love it.