Tiger vs. Phil: The end of an era? I think not.

This past January Phil Mickelson was forced to withdraw from the Farmers Insurance Open because of inflammation in his back. The popular left hander claimed that he simply needs to “spend more time stretching” but was questionable prior to appearing in the Phoenix Waste Management Open to defend his title weeks later.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill begins today; the biggest news besides Bubba carding an 11 because of a sneezing fit has been Tiger Woods personally calling the tournament host, Mr. Palmer, to express regret that he will not be able to compete due to back pain and spasms. Last August Tiger fell to his knees in apparent and excruciating pain after hitting a tee shot during the Final Round of The Barclay’s; it would seem that his back has not been the same ever since. This is the second time in as many tournaments that Tiger has been forced to withdraw because of back problems leaving many to ponder whether the 38-year old has enough left in his rapidly aging body to win even one more major, much less the 5 more he needs to reach his stated goal of beating Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major tournaments.

The Tiger-Phil rivalry is one of the best in sports and is certainly the best for this generation of golfers. But is it over?

It is becoming painfully obvious, literally, that the sport’s two behemoths are mortal and are aging.

We got a whiff that the tides were turning 5 years ago. It was then that Tiger embarked on a life-destroying sex binge that imploded in his face Thanksgiving of 2009 after having just sat out part of the previous year for major knee surgery and to heal a broken leg. Nine months later Phil announced a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis; a chronic and degenerative condition that damages the joints and can lead to deformities in the hands, feet, and spines of its victims. And yet since then both of the sports mega-giants have continued their success. Tiger has won 14 times since that pivotal event including three World Golf Championships and The Players’ Championship in 2013; a win that marked just the second in his career for the annual Tournament held at TPC Sawgrass. He has recaptured his World #1 ranking and is favored to win this year’s Masters Tournament. Phil has been quite prolific in his own right winning 5 times since 2010 including two majors; The Masters’ Tournament  held that year and The British Open just last year.

Mike Wilbon, columnist for the Washington Post and co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, quipped on-air in an episode several months ago: (paraphrased) “We are 15 years in it’s still all about Tiger and Phil. No one else even enters the conversation.”

He is right, of course. Lest we forget:

Tiger did not win last year’s Masters Tournament because of PENALITES not PAIN

Related: “Is it okay for viewers to call in rules violations?”

Tiger had hit the most perfect shot, incredibly on line and designed to land and check feet from the cup on the 15th hole during Friday’s round. This would have positioned him for a tap in birdie. But when his too-perfect knock-down 9 iron hit the pin it bounced back down into the water. He dropped another ball and hit the same shot which proceeded to do what is was told this time. However, this second shot was heard around the world. Tiger was cited for an improper drop, and the uproar that ensued was incredible. Despite being embroiled in controversy, with former players and media persons even calling upon him to disqualify himself, he stayed in it both mentally and physically carding a -5 for the Tournament. Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera were tied at -9 when their playoff to win the Tournament began. The 4 strokes that kept Tiger out of that playoff? The 2-stroke penalty for dropping it into the hazard followed by the 2-stroke penalty for an improper drop.

 Lefty’s game is not suited to Links course golf, yet he won the 2013 British Open anyway

Related: “5 Reasons Phil’s Win is So Amazing”

How soon we forget but it was scant 8 months ago when Phil hoisted the Claret Jug, a trophy that none could have predicted, not even Phil. Mickleson himself believed this one would elude him permanently. Questioning the viability of someone who won a major last year simply would simply not happen if it were another, younger player. Are we really ready to count him out?

Tiger versus Phil is still the relevant conversation to have. The will of these men is mighty. They reach beyond what appears possible to seize what they want and deserve. ♣

Photo: sportspickle.com