PGA Tour Inc.

05/25/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 05/25/2020 05:54

Tiger and Phil: The Rivalry that keeps giving

For a rivalry to really work, however, both sides have to occasionally win. Competitive balance is the special sauce, and this is where Tiger and Phil almost didn't end up clicking.

Way back in 2001 at a Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona, Mickelson told me something that at the time seemed debatable. 'When I compete with Tiger,' he said as we ate chips and salsa, 'I can see myself - the line of a putt, the shot I want to hit - more clearly.'

I nodded, but Woods seemed to be in a class by himself. He had just set or tied 27 PGA TOUR records as he won nine times in 2000. Still, Mickelson had won the TOUR Championship that year, firing a 66 to overtake Woods (69) and Vijay Singh, so I wrote it in my notebook.

And it turned out he was right.

Studies have shown how sports rivals lift each other up; college and pro teams get quantifiably better in the year after their chief rival wins the championship. Long-distance runners are five seconds per kilometer faster if a top rival is in the race. So it went with Tiger and Phil.

'Although we often see them as enemies,' author Adam Grant wrote in The New York Times last year, 'our rivals can be our greatest allies. You can see this in the extreme in sports.'

Tiger and Phil battled at Doral, Bay Hill, Firestone, Augusta National. We suspected that they made each other better, but now we know just how much better. As Justin Ray of The 15th Club wrote for PGATOUR.COM, for the last 15 years Mickelson has gained an average of 1.12 strokes on the field per round, but when playing alongside Woods that number has jumped to 2.00 strokes per round. So, yeah, maybe Phil really did see the shot he wanted to hit more clearly.

(Playing with Mickelson also helped Woods, although less so.)

Who won the rivalry? Woods will end his career with far more victories, but as Ray points out, on 31 occasions when both were within five of the lead going into the final round, Woods won 10 times, Mickelson nine, while Woods shot a cumulative 51 under par, Mickelson 52 under.

That they've grown into the rivalry perhaps shouldn't surprise us. For as Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, also wrote in The Times, 'If you build a supportive relationship with that rival, it can elevate your performance even further.'

Tiger and Phil took it to another level when they committed to the Ryder Cup Task Force after the U.S. Team's lopsided defeat at Gleneagles in 2014, and are now closer than ever. Mickelson is even planning to move to South Florida; you can just imagine Phil knocking on Tiger's door to ask if he can come out and hit some bombs, and Tiger rolling his eyes and agreeing.

So, yes, they've made each other better on the course, but also off it. They've made Brady and Manning better, and at the Medalist on Sunday, all four of them did their part to make even the ongoing pandemic better. Even as we anticipate the twilight of their competitive careers, the rivalry between Tiger and Phil continues to elevate us all.