Monday night’s thunderstorms uprooted one of Magnolia Lane’s 61 historic trees at the Augusta National Golf Club, but that wasn’t the only effect the weather had on the second day of Masters’ Week.
Due to the wet course conditions, Phil Mickelson altered his schedule. He delayed his practice round, moving it from Tuesday to Wednesday, and he changed his interview time.
Mickelson changed it to the timeslot directly before one Tiger Woods.
I had seen them before. Mickelson is jovial and chatty; Woods is thoughtful but guarded. This time, however, with Woods stepping onto the same podium Mickelson had exited just minutes before, the difference between the two seemed wider than the 13th green.
In many respects, it’s justified. Mickelson is the defending champion in Augusta and coming off of a week where he shot 16-under on the weekend to win the Shell Houston Open. Woods’ troubles have been well-documented, with his last win coming in ‘09, before his car crashed into a fire hydrant and his personal life spiraled into the tabloids.
Woods is currently ranked seventh in the world golf rankings, his lowest ranking entering The Masters since he won the tournament by 12 strokes in ‘97. Mickelson’s win last week moved him to third in the world rankings, the first time he has been ranked higher than Woods since that same ’97 Masters.
So, I wasn’t shocked that they were different. I was just shocked at how different they truly were. Before cameras started rolling, Mickelson openly engaged individual members of the media, asking questions and joking about different stories that had been written. During the press conference, he freely took swipes at other players, including top-ranked Martin Kaymer. "I would love for (Kaymer) to play this tournament left-handed," he said jokingly, in response to the right-handed Kaymer’s assertion earlier Tuesday that lefties had an advantage at Augusta National.
Even when Mickelson wasn’t completely forthcoming — he said he didn’t have an opinion on Woods’ chances to break Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors win record — he went out of his way to apologize, finding the reporter who asked the question after the press conference and explaining, "it’s really just a tough question for me to answer".
Mickelson was engaging, comfortable, and sometimes comical. Woods brought a palpably different feel to the interview room at Augusta National.
I had seen the Woods of a year ago, broken and nervous in his first press conference after his 144-day hiatus from competitive golf. This wasn’t that guy. This Woods had been asked the same questions about his personal life time and time again. "I feel almost ready to tee it up on Thursday," he said to questions that tried to delve into where he was on a personal level.
When asked if he thought golfers should be punished for cursing, like soccer’s Wayne Rooney was recently, Woods responded, "You like to ask questions each and every year, don’t you," openly mocking the reporter who asked the question.
He’s hardened, he’s frustrated, and after seeing him Tuesday, I believe Woods is tired of answering questions. More specifically, I believe he’s tired of answering questions about how bad he is — at golf, at life, at cursing, at everything. He’s tired of answering questions about when he will win again. He’s tired of answering questions about catching Nicklaus’ record.
It’s an understandable evolution in a tumultuous 17-month span for Woods, and the only way to alleviate some of the external pressures, and the questions, is to win.
Are his best days behind him?
"No," says Woods. "I believe in myself. There’s nothing wrong with believing in myself. God, I hope you guys feel the same way about yourselves. You know, that’s the whole idea, is that you can always become better."
Mickelson didn’t have to answer those questions, and he’ll have all of the momentum as he drives down Magnolia Lane Thursday, a drive that he says ‘reinvigorates (his) passion for the game’.
And it’s that momentum that Woods is still searching for, but he doesn’t expect to find it Thursday on his way into Augusta National.
"Driving down Magnolia Lane is just looking at some trees, really."
To Mickelson, it’s an experience. To Woods, it’s trees on the side of the road.
I guess it’s all in your perspective, and these two have very different ones.
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