- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

If you're expecting to see the U.S. dream team of Tiger Woods paired with Phil Mickelson at this week's Ryder Cup, dream on.

Fact is, the world's top two golfers don't like each other at all. Those close to the sport have known about the rub between the two for years. But Mark Calcavecchia, who will be partnered with Woods at least once at the Belfry, became the first player to acknowledge the rift in a Q&A in Golf Digest's August issue.

"They put up with each other, but they aren't the best of friends," Calcavecchia said in the interview. "I think some of the things Phil says might rub Tiger a little the wrong way. Tiger might think [Mickelson] is a know-it-all and cocky."

Mickelson was incensed by Calcavecchia's comments, approached him at last month's PGA Championship and received an apology. Tiger was strangely silent. Why? Because Calcavecchia was only speaking the truth.

While we don't know the origin of the animosity between them, there are a few notable anecdotes on the subject.

During one of the practice rounds at this year's Masters, Mickelson and Calcavecchia were scheduled to have the first tee time of the day, and Woods jumped in front of them because he was playing alone and didn't think it was a big deal. According to Calcavecchia, who is close friends with both players, it was a big deal to Mickelson, who nagged Woods about "common courtesy."

During a practice round at the Buick Invitational four years ago, Mickelson was playing in front of Woods when somebody drove into him from the teebox. Assuming it was Woods, Mickelson waited on the next tee and ripped into Woods when he reached the green.

"I had to explain to Phil that it was my ball and not Tiger's," Frank Lickliter said. "[Mickelson] was screaming something about how it was 'typical of Tiger.'"

Three years ago at the Ryder Cup at Brookline, Mickelson was in the midst of a row with Swedish player and European team member Jarmo Sandelin. One writer overheard the following exchange between Woods' swing instructor, Butch Harmon, and Woods:

Harmon: "I think we finally found someone who hates Phil more than you do."

Woods: "No way."

Are you getting the picture?

Mickelson is like that kid everybody knew in elementary school who tries to ingratiate himself to the teacher by ratting you out for passing notes. And he's got quite a complex about Woods a complex that only has been exacerbated by his third-place finish to Woods at the Masters and his second-place finish to Woods at the U.S. Open. For his part, Woods loves to compete against Mickelson, though he finds him personally annoying.

Captain Curtis Strange would like you to think everything is hunky dory between his two stars. After all, they were playing pingpong with each other in the team room Monday night. Is there anything that says friendship like pingpong?

"They were playing pingpong with each other last night and having a go at it. So they're fine," Strange said of his stars Tuesday.

You bet they were having a go at it. We guarantee slams outstripped smiles around that table. Unfortunately, Woods wouldn't say who won.

"I beat a few people," Woods said coyly of his pingpong prowess. "[When I was younger], I thought I was halfway decent because I could beat about anybody in high school. Then in my freshman dorm at Stanford I played the Polish national champion. I had no chance."

Which is about the same chance you have of seeing Tiger and Mickelson paired together this week or ever. The real awkward fun should come to a head in December, when, as the two top-rated Americans, Woods and Mickelson will be slated to partner with each other in the World Cup in Mexico. We're just waiting to see who comes up with a stiff neck, prior commitment or disorganized sock drawer first.

"They respect each other," said Strange, who won't pair them together but doesn't want us to read anything into that decision. "They're competitors, and they're peers. They're No.1 and No.2 in the world. It's almost an impossibility to be best bosom buddies when you are trying to achieve the same thing, in any sport, in any business."

True enough. But this week that common goal isn't mutually exclusive. And if you haven't figured it out by now, these Ryder Cup deals are awfully close. Total up the scores from the last seven events, and you'll see Europe and the United States are tied at 98. In such a traditionally close event, the slightest thing can provide the difference. Something seemingly minor like team unity is an example.

As usual, Europe can't match the talent present on Uncle Sam's roster. But that hasn't stopped the plucky foreigners from taking home the trophy in four of the last seven Ryder Cups. If you're looking for a reason, you better start with team chemistry. Sure, the Euros don't have the same caliber of talent, but they don't have to deal with Tiger vs. Phil, either.


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