Wednesday, June 17, 2009

If it's Tiger vs. Phil, who would you root for?

Imagine this fantasy finish to the U.S. Open this weekend.

Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson in the final group, topping the leaderboard and comfortably leading the rest of the field by several strokes.

Who do you root for to win?

Everybody loves Tiger because Tiger’s a winner. He’s fit and he’s fun to be around. He’s in all the TV commercials and video games. His demeanor breads confidence and his smile could light Nike headquarters for a week. He’s won more major tournaments on this planet other than Jack Nicklaus and he wins from ahead and from behind with an unmistakable animated fist-pumping style that appeals to the galleries who adore him and the fans watching at home who admire him. He is on the Mt. Rushmore of modern day sports.

Then there’s Phil.  He’s lumpy and lefty. He’s like a doughnut: There are a variety of reasons you shouldn’t like him (namely he doesn’t win nearly as much as Tiger) and he’s usually not good for you in the end but you have a fond weakness for him. You have a soft spot because, all things considered, he’s an underdog. A cuddly puppy, though hardened golf fans don’t warm to him because he fails in the clutch more than his succeeds and the perception is no such thing ever happens to Tiger.

Tiger wins when you suspect he can win. Phil wins when you least expect it.

So what happens if, on Sunday, they’re playing for our national championship, head to head, hole by hole? Who do you want to see win?

As much as I like Tiger as the next guy, I’m pulling for Phil. His wife, Amy, has breast cancer – my older sister is a breast cancer survivor – and she wants him to come home with the U.S. Open trophy. It’s like Adrian awakening from a coma and telling Rocky Balboa to go fight and win. This would be perfect theater, Phil coming down the 18th fairway at Bethpage Black with a chance to win the U.S. Open but needing to beat Tiger to do it.

In the end, it’s pure Hollywood. Phil, with Tiger looking over his shoulder, sinks a tournament-winning birdie putt then breaks down and cries. And we’d cry with him.

So, the question is, do you root for Tiger and smile or root for Phil and cry? Either way, I’m loving it.


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