Phil Mickelson was as far away as he could be on Friday when Tiger Woods made his special walk up the 18th hole at the Old Course. On hole 18, people cheered for Woods and made him tear up. Mickelson was out around the turn of this two-mile-long golf course, where there were no spectators or seagulls.
That might have been just what Mickelson needed. If he had been closer, he might have heard the loud cheers of the crowd. People were on the balconies of buildings that were hundreds of years old. There was only standing room in the grandstands. On the street next to it, thousands of people were stuck against the fence. It was one of the most important events of the year and of Woods’ career. It may have been his last round at the most prestigious golf course.
Mickelson had nothing like it happen to him.
When Mickelson crossed the Swilcan Bridge, two hours after Woods did, maybe a couple hundred people were still in the stands. Only a small number of people called out his name. Even less of them bothered to take pictures. Woods made that walk pretty much on his own, with his hat held high in his right hand out of respect for his other players. Mickelson moved behind Lucas Herbert and his caddie and quickly crossed the bridge. For two players whose careers will always be linked, Friday was about as clear a reminder as you can get: these two only have the same job. Even more so now.
This year, Mickelson has been the most quiet version of himself we’ve ever seen. He no longer talks to his fans online. He stopped talking to the press and skipped events like this week’s Open Champions Dinner, only to say that he couldn’t be happier. Woods took part in the ceremony the whole week, even though he played bad golf. He knows how fast things can disappear.
Woods isn’t giving up golf, but he thinks the next Open at his favorite course, St. Andrews, won’t be until 2030. Jon Rahm also said that. Eight years from now, Woods will be 54 years old. Mickelson will be 60 years old, which is the age when most golf legends play their last round at the Open Championship. Has he thought about his last race, or is that way too soon? He is one reason why the R&A seems determined to change its exemption categories before the Open next summer. At this rate, professional golf will look very different in a few years.
As of now, all we have is Friday at the Old Course, upon which Mickelson nodded and gave thumbs up as he walked around the course, and golf fans behaved as they usually do in person, swooning respectfully. He has now played in two PGA Tour events this year, but he hasn’t made the cut in either one. This year, he has played in two LIV Golf events, which don’t have a cut. He’s broken par just once. He says his golf at St. Andrews is almost good. His aura is not.
Mickelson has taken part in the Celebration of Champions hit-and-giggle before tournaments in the past. This week, he agreed to pass when it was suggested. In past years, he would stop on the bridge to take pictures or at least look up as people cheered for him. There was no joy today. Mickelson didn’t raise his head. Woods, on the other hand, posed for pictures all week on the bridge, including one alone with Jack Nicklaus. If it hasn’t already happened, that photo will be put in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Same for the photos of Woods walking up 18 on Friday afternoon.
After the applause, Woods spoke to the press for 13 minutes. He has never looked happier about shooting nine over. He talked about how Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas treated him with respect as he passed them on the fairway. On the 18th hole, as he tapped in for a final par, he said, “it felt the whole tournament was right there”
Mickelson made a birdie on hole 18, which got him the small amount of applause that was expected. He signed for a missed cut, just like Woods did, and then R&A media relations told his team that three reporters were waiting to talk to him.
The person in charge of media relations quickly ran around the corner to tell everyone, “Guys, that was a firm “No.”
Original article posted on Golf.com
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