That Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson 2004 Ryder Cup pairing might not be as bad as we remember
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been paired together in only one of the previous seven Ryder Cups they've played in together, when the star-studded pairing went 0-2 at the 2004 Ryder Cup. Then ranked No. 2 and No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking, respectively, Tiger and Phil lost 2 & 1 to Colin Montgomerie/Padraig Harrington in morning four-ball, then 1 up to Darren Clarke/Lee Westwood in afternoon foursomes.
It's remembered as a wildly unsuccessful pairing that set the tone for the European team's 18 1/2-9 1/2 rout of the host Americans at Oakland Hills. We wondered if history (and our memories) have been unjustly harsh on Tiger and Phil's performance that week. Are they getting an undue share of the blame for the loss, even though the pairing could have won at most two of the 28 points as playing partners?
We re-watched the highlights from the two Tiger/Phil matches (you can too, below) and tracked the scoring on each hole. The verdict: these matches were a lot closer than we might have remembered.
Watch highlights from Tiger and Phil's 2004 Ryder Cup pairings below.
Here's an examination of key holes from Tiger and Phil's four-ball and foursomes matches, what went wrong and why it may not have been as bad in retrospect.
Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson vs. Colin Montgomerie/Padraig Harrington
Four-ball, 1st hole: All four players missed the fairway as 1st-tee jitters may have caught up to the group. Montgomerie's second shot from a fairway bunker rolled within 10 feet of the hole, setting him up for a birdie putt that allowed the Europeans to go 1 up on the par-4 1st hole at Oakland Hills. Montgomerie and Harrington combined to birdie the first four holes, taking a 2-up lead through three holes.
Four-ball, 3rd hole: Harrington's tee shot stopped just below the pin on the par-3 3rd hole. He recorded the only 2 of the first morning four-ball match to beat Tiger's par on the hole.
Montgomerie and Harrington had at least a 1-up lead for the rest of the way.
Four-ball, 14th hole: Harrington all but clinched the match for the Europeans with his approach shot from the fairway on the 14th hole. The backspin on Harrington's ball from his iron shot brought it back off the fringe and onto the green. He birdied to give Europe a 3-up lead with four holes to play.
Tiger and Phil each won two holes in the match, as did Montgomerie, but Harrington won four holes, including three from the 8th hole to the 14th hole, to give the Europeans the edge.
What could have been different: Trust us for a second as we go all the way back to the first four shots of the entire 2004 Ryder Cup. Tiger, Phil, Montgomerie and Harrington each missed the fairway on the 1st hole. Montgomerie was able to recover with an incredible second shot from a bunker that allowed the Europeans to take the lead with his birdie putt. However, what if Tiger and/or Phil find the fairway on their drives? A birdie for the U.S. prevents Europe from taking an early lead.
What happened after the 1st hole? The Europeans and Americans traded holes after that, as Montgomerie/Harrington won the 3rd, 6th and 8th holes, while Tiger and Phil won 5th, 7th and 9th holes. If the Americans birdied the opening hole, the match would have been all-square through 11 holes and who knows what happens after that.
It's also important to look at the par-5 12th hole, which the U.S. parred, while Europe birdied. Harrington birdied that hole to give Europe a 2-up lead. There were only two par-5s on the course. Tiger and Phil birdied one, while Montgomerie and Harrington birdied both. How would the first morning four-ball match have been different if the U.S. had matched Europe with a birdie on the 12th hole?
Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson vs. Darren Clarke/Lee Westwood
Foursomes, 2nd hole: Tiger's 3-wood on the par-5 2nd hole was one of the best shots of Friday as it set the U.S. for a birdie putt to take a 1-up lead in the match.
Foursomes, 7th hole: It only took Clarke and Westwood three holes to cut Tiger and Phil's lead to 1 up. Westwood took the pair's second shot, hitting an iron to sail and approach shot over a line of trees, stopping within four feet of the hole. Clarke birdied the hole.
After the European duo won the 6th and 7th holes, both sides went bogey-par on the 8th and 9th holes, before Clarke and Westwood took the 10th and 11th holes to claim a 1-up lead.
Foursomes, 17th hole: With a 1-up lead, Clarke and Westwood sent two shots into a bunker, leaving the door open for Tiger and Phil to make the match all-square. They parred the par-3 17th, while Clarke and Westwood bogeyed the hole.
Foursomes, 18th hole: With the match all square on the 18th tee, Mickelson's tee shot with his 3-wood sailed wide left, settling near a fence, forcing Tiger to take a penalty drop. The American duo double-bogeyed the hole. Clarke and Westwood bogeyed their second hole in a row but a bogey was enough to win the 18th hole and as a result, the match.
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What could have been different: There's a chance golf fans would remember the Tiger and Phil pairings at the 2004 Ryder Cup completely differently if Phil's drive on the 18th hole finds the fairway. Hypothetically, would you trust Tiger to take the pair's second shot and Phil to chip or putt on the third shot? The American duo would've won the hole and the match with a par on the 18th and then Tiger and Phil would have a career 1-1 record when paired together at the Ryder Cup.
Maybe an afternoon foursomes win would've been enough for Tiger and Phil to be paired together in future Ryder Cups after 2004.
Even though Tiger and Phil arrived at Oakland Hills ranked in the top four in the world, it's worth reminding golf fans what the Americans were up against.
In Friday afternoon foursomes, Montgomerie faced a difficult downhill chip on the 8th hole, where he elected to chip sideways onto the rough, getting the ball to roll onto the green and settle inches from the cup. It's one of the most gutsy and well executed shots in Ryder Cup history.
"It showed, I think, not just the way I was feeling but the whole team was feeling," Montgomerie later told Sky Sports about the shot. "I summarized it in a press conference afterwards, I said, 'This particular shot summed up the differences between the two teams. This was the European (being) confident, been able to go for the shot ... (compared) to [U.S. Captain Hal Sutton's] team that were tight and weren't prepared to have that confidence I feel like or show that confidence."
After Tiger and Phil's 0-2 mark at the 2004 Ryder Cup, is there any chance the two are paired together again this year at Le Golf National?
Mickelson was asked Tuesday how a potential Ryder Cup pairing with Tiger in 2018 would be different than it was in 2004.
"The bottom line is going to be preparation," Mickelson said. "When we can eliminate the variables; eliminate the uncertainties, it eliminates the pressure. So the more questions we have answered well before The Ryder Cup, the more prepared we are and the better – the more time we have to prepare our games the week of The Ryder Cup."
Phil said he would be receptive to such a pairing, if U.S. Captain Jim Furyk put the two Ryder Cup veterans together.
"I think we would both welcome it," he said.