The Phil people are delirious. The Tiger people are devastated.
The good guy, a green jacket draped comfortably over his open-collared polo, addresses an adoring crowd at sunset. The bad boy, who was last seen walking past the clubhouse in his no-longer-bulletproof red victory shirt, heads for home (wherever that is) to the yawns of a surfeited tabloid press.
The winner’s family — the adoring wife, the two daughters, the mischievous son, the proud mother — wrap him in hugs and kisses. The third runner-up’s wife and kids … well, they’re out there somewhere. Possibly on another continent.
Phil Mickelson’s third Masters win is as emotionally satisfying as it gets, for obvious reasons. A cancer-battling wife. A cancer-battling mom. Three anxious kids. CBS commentator Jim Nantz practically tapped it in backhanded when he tagged Mickelson’s tournament-winning putt with a sonorous, “That’s a win for the family.” But it was more than that, thanks to Tiger Woods’s ragged, sometimes brilliant, but mostly desperate play on Sunday. It was a parable of comeuppance, a High-Def dispersion of just deserts.
For more than a decade, after all, Phil has been eating Tiger’s dust. Before Sunday, his 37 PGA Tour wins and three major titles were compared unfavorably to Tiger’s 71 and 14, respectively. Phil was famous for screwing up. (He hit the hospitality tent at Winged Foot! He yanked it into the ocean at Pebble Beach!) Tiger was lionized for buckling down. (He won by 12 at St. Andrews! He beat a U.S. Open field on a broken leg!)
Phil played low-percentage golf. Tiger always played it smart. Phil changed equipment companies on the eve of a Ryder Cup. Tiger made his equipment company adapt to him. Phil made millions. Tiger was said to be pushing a billion. On top of those indignities, you had the perception — encouraged by Woods — that Phil couldn’t handle pressure. Who can forget the look of contempt that Tiger gave partner Phil eight years ago, when Lefty nearly yanked his tee shot out-of-bounds on the final hole of a Ryder Cup alternate-shot match.
If Tiger was steak, a columnist wrote, Phil was salad.
Well, that’s no longer the case. Phil was the high-cholesteral golfer the past week, seizing the stage on Saturday afternoon with a three-hole, five-under-par stretch that Bobby Jones couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams. Was Phil dangerously bold at times? Yes he was. His final-round 5-iron to the 13th green — snaked between two pines and plopped down a yard past the bank of Rae’s Creek — was total Tin Cup madness. And it made you vibrate to your core, having been privileged to witness it.
It was the sort of shot we’ve come to expect from a charging Woods. And to be fair, the returned-from-tabloid-hell philanderer hit a number of Tigeresque shots during his four-birdie, two-eagle final round. Overall, however, Tiger looked like Mickelson at his most erratic, driving balls into adjoining fairways, playing pinball in the trees, and on the 14th green — mirabile dictu! — taking three putts of less than five feet in the space of fifteen seconds. Blame Tiger’s frantic, lurchy swing on his five-month layoff if you like, but at least consider the possibility that he may never master the Hank Haney-authored swing drills he has been practicing for years.
But if swings are hard to master, relationships can be that much tougher. The pre-scandal Woods seemed to understand that. He set up house with a photogenic blonde, just like Phil. He fathered a couple of adorable kids, just like Phil. He looked for his loved ones in the crowd after sinking the winning putt, just like Phil.
But that’s where Tiger drew the line. He craved a different kind of intimacy.
That’s why, at the end of the day, it’s the sight of the emotional Mickelson, locked in a never-ending embrace with his plucky wife, that drives home the point.
Phil’s got it all. Tiger’s got nothing.