It was after the second round at the Deutsche Bank Championship on Saturday when Phil Mickelson intimated that his new swing coach, Butch Harmon, had given him secret tips on how to beat Harmon's former pupil, Tiger Woods.
In five tries, Mickelson had never won a tournament when paired with Woods in the final round. Woods had won three times in those matchups. But Mickelson, in cryptic, off-hand comments issued on Saturday, said he now had a better understanding of how to perform under the pressure Woods brings to the closing holes of a tournament.
Monday evening, after a dramatic final-round pairing with Woods brought him a two-stroke victory in the Deutsche Bank, Mickelson was asked if he was going to be more specific about what Harmon had revealed.
"Good heavens, no," Mickelson said, laughing and rolling his eyes.
The tense, mistake-prone player that had frequently wilted in Woods' final-round presence -- Mickelson on Monday called his previous record against Woods pathetic -- was now serene, comic and even yearning for another shot at Woods in one of next year's major championships.
"The next step is to try to go head to head in a major," said Mickelson, whose five-under-par 66 gave him a two-shot victory over Woods and Arron Oberholser. "We don't get paired very often in majors, and hopefully next year we'll have a chance to do that."
Mickelson's victory also vaulted him to the top of the FedEx Cup standings as the 9,000 points he earned moved him ahead of Steve Stricker and Woods, who is in third. There are two events remaining in the inaugural FedEx Cup playoffs, although Mickelson said he was not sure he would play in the next tournament, the BMW Championship that begins tomorrow outside Chicago.
Mickelson said his desire to balance his career and family obligations was creating a conflict.
"I'm torn," he said, adding that he was committed to playing in the final event of the playoffs, in Atlanta from Sept. 13 to Sept. 16.
The Mickelson-Woods confrontation, which drew a loud, rowdy gallery that created an atmosphere not unlike a heavyweight title fight, overshadowed all other play.
Woods, who shot a final-round 67, lamented his missed putts but did not seem bothered that his longstanding dominance of Mickelson in head-to-head play had ended.
"I just couldn't make enough putts to push him," Woods said. "But the good news is that the rest of my game is doing pretty good."
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