New Old Rivalry with Tiger and Phil at the Top- But not at Pebble Beach

photo-1Tiger Woods isn’t returning to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am after playing in the event last year much to the disappointment of anticipating fans. Woods returned to the AT&T last year for the first time since 2002. Woods’s next start will be at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Feb. 20., an event he’s won three times. Woods is notoriously choosy when it comes to Tour stops, so it appears his addition of Pebble Beach last year might have been a one-time-only appearance. He has reportedly had issues with the tournament in the past despite winning in 2000. He doesn’t like the poa annua greens, unpredictable weather, long rounds and celebrity-driven crowds.

His decision is unfortunate given that he dominated in his last win 2 weeks ago while Phil Mickelson dominated last week at the Waste Management just a week ago. This would have set up an epic rivalry week that fans and the media would have loved to have watched.

Both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson appear to be coming into form and are likely to be major factors this year. Imagine a world in which Mickelson (or Woods, for that matter) is an efficient driver or, at the very least, his wildest shots have a much smaller dispersion.

At least last week, Phil At 42, seems to be inching away from his aggressive mentality and replacing it with more of a conservative aggression. When he shot that first-round 60, he was dying to post in the 50s—the only time he has done so was at the 2004 Grand Slam of Golf, when he shot 59—but on the final two holes he didn’t go for broke on his approach, hitting wedge shots he made sure to keep below the hole. Smarter conservative play accented his game. The last birdie putt, for 59, lipped out so forcibly that a stunned Bones slumped in disbelief to his knees, then to his elbows.

Another reason to stand behind Phil is his iron play. Wild drives, occasionally questionable decisions and erratic putt­ing (he’s using a modified claw grip now and rolling it great, by the way) have overshadowed the fact that other than a prime-time Tiger, nobody stacks more approach shots closer to the hole than Phil. In Scottsdale he led the field in greens in regulation and proximity to the pin.

Mickelson doesn’t often rank so high in greens or fairways hit, but no matter how poor his numbers are, he’s usually among the top 15 in birdies per round, often the top five. This is a fact: Phil is one of the best iron players from the rough. Golf is about scoring, and Phil is a great scorer because his iron play combined with a great short game and deadly mid-range putt­ing. Simply put, he knows how to get the ball in the hole. Similarly Tiger will often, even when is off of the fairway, recover with a super-classed short game and putting.

Watch out if they have both figured out their games