The place: Pebble Beach.
The day: Sunday.
The pairing: Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
The scores: Phil 64, Tiger 75.
Scribes and pundits, commence pontificating.
Itís a deep thinkerís dream, this whole scene. Itís payment in spades for week after week of anonymous winners, of buzz-free golf Sundays. Itís a perfect storm of intersecting career arcs, golfís two most decorated players and a Bird/Magic-like rivalry that we see too rarely.
Then again, we should be thankful we saw it at all. CBSí contractual obligation to show the end of the Michigan-Illinois foul extravaganza, er, uh, basketball game meant golf fans were denied a key stretch of golf where Mickelson eagled No. 6, and Tiger bogeyed Nos. 7 and 8.
Thatís OK, though. Those holes at Pebble Beach arenít very attractive and donít televise well. Besides, tectonic shifts on leaderboards and the golf power structure are overrated anyway.
And if CBS promises not to delay Tiger/Phil at Pebble any more, I promise not to write sentences dripping in bitter sarcasm.
By the time the network brought the unbeatable Monterey Peninsula coastline to our home, all was forgiven. How could you beat the storylines? What a soaring day for Leftyís lore! What a damaging day for Tigerís struggle to regain relevance! What a disappointing 74 from Ken Duke!
(Note to self: Duke doesnít exactly fit Tiger/Phil epic drama. Leave Duke references out until further review.)
Round 4 of the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am could be remembered for many things. We had another big 54-hole lead surrendered (Kyle Stanley and Spencer Levin: Welcome Charlie Wi to your club.) Or another weird Sunday from Dustin Johnson, stoking the ongoing debate of whether heís a brilliant, misunderstood talent or just a forehead slap in-waiting.
But the day will be remembered for only one thing. Or, should I say, two:
Phil and Tiger.
Never in their nearly two-decade rivalry had the dynamic produced the utter destruction of Tiger at the hands of Phil.
Granted, Lefty has played better than Tiger in head-to-head pairings the last few years. Many reasons can be attributed to this: Tigerís bad health and ensuing poor play, Tigerís apparent lost confidence since the Escalade-into-the-tree on Thanksgiving Night 2009 and Philís hiring of Tigerís old swing coach, Butch Harmon, who has provided tips on getting the mental edge on Tiger.
Notably, Phil outplayed Tiger head-to-head in the final round of the 2009 Masters (67 to Tigerís 68) and the final round of the 2010 BMW Championship (67 to Tigerís 70). But heíd never paired with him on Sunday at Pebble Beach, much less storming from behind to win and with the added twist of Tiger trying so hard to get that elusive, first victory in 28 months on the PGA Tour.
Never when paired with Tiger had Lefty crafted one of the great rounds of his career Ė an utter masterpiece of golf shots, temperament and belief.
And letís be honest. For the most part, the last 15 years, Tiger has stolen Philís lunch money. Heís up 14 to four in majors, and before Sunday, 71 to 39 in PGA Tour wins. That Phil now has 40 is a nice round number, but heís still 31 behind Tiger.
So for Phil to hammer Tiger by 11 strokes and kiss the crystal in front of Carmel Bay and Clint Eastwood Ö there is no shortage of analogies that people will use to describe the scene for a good long time.
Phil said after the round that Tiger brings out his best, that he focuses more when he plays with Tiger and is less mentally lazy. This is notable, since the knock on Phil for those many years was that he was a mental midget, that he could never out-grind Tiger. Tiger was the guy who was locked in on every swing, while Phil was the space cadet whose otherworldly talent only came in fits and starts.
Imagine, then, how stunning it was to see Tiger, not Phil, miss five putts inside five feet on Sunday. How stunning it was to see Tiger rack together a hat trick of bogeys on Nos. 7, 8 and 9 at Pebble Beach. You almost thought a helicopter should chopper him off the green and over to Salinas General Hospital. Stat!
How stunning it was to see Tiger miss a short putt on the 72nd hole and whiff on a top-10 finish when the outcome was decided, inducing one of those embarrassing ďooohĒ sounds from the gallery. How stunning it was to see Tiger dropping his club after an errant tee shot on No. 10.
As Tiger dropped his club, the cameras caught Phil on the tee box watching while quietly, stoically gnawing on a banana. Oh, to pay for his thoughts at that moment.
And then there were the dagger putts from Phil, the absolute spine-crushers he produced at the right times. First, on No. 12, Tiger produced his only flash of momentum, holing out from the greenside bunker for a birdie. His game face and fierce low-five with amateur partner Tony Romo showed how much Tiger felt energy turning his way.
That is, until Phil rolled home an impossible dream of a putt Ė a 30-foot breaker to save par and keep Tiger four shots back. His face, too, told a tale.
ďLook at the gritted teeth!Ē said CBS announcer Jim Nantz.
For good measure, Phil added a par-saving bomb on No. 15, the equivalent of a moonwalk over Tigerís grave. Lefty said his putting hasnít felt this good in years, that he doesnít even worry about mechanics now. He just sees his lines and feels confident.