Phil Mickelson 'challenges' Tiger Woods to golfing duel

CNN/ Newswire | 5/9/2018, 10:05 a.m.
It's the dream pairing golf fans yearn for, but Phil Mickelson has upped the ante and called out Tiger Woods ...
Tiger Woods (left) and Phil Mickelson played a surprise practice round together ahead of the Masters.

By Rob Hodgetts, CNN

(CNN) -- It's the dream pairing golf fans yearn for, but Phil Mickelson has upped the ante and called out Tiger Woods for a separate high-stakes shootout.

The veteran duo will play together, alongside another marquee player Rickie Fowler, in the first two rounds of the Players Championship at Sawgrass, Florida, this week, and 47-year-old Mickelson was in playful mood as he threw out the challenge to his old rival.

The pair, who have 19 majors between them, dueled at the top of the game for much of their careers and are both enjoying a new flush -- Woods, 42, after making a promising return from back fusion surgery, and Mickelson with a first victory in five years in Mexico earlier this season.

They were last in the same group four years ago, but Mickelson sensed a chance to poke fun at the hype surrounding the pairing.

"So I love that we're paired together," Mickelson, a five-time major winner, told reporters earnestly. "I think it's really fun."

Warming to his theme, the current world No.19 added with a grin: "We haven't been paired together in years, and as I look at the cover of the newspaper and the pairing is on there and the excitement that's been going on around here, it gets me thinking, why don't we just bypass all the ancillary stuff of a tournament and just go head-to-head and just have kind of a high-stake, winner-take-all match.

"Now, I don't know if he wants a piece of me, but I just think it would be something that would be really fun for us to do, and I think there would be a lot of interest in it if we just went straight to the final round."

'Whatever makes him uncomfortable'

At Woods' news conference later at Sawgrass he was asked about Mickelson's proposition.

Pausing for effect, before flashing a smile, the former world No.1 -- who has confirmed he will play at the British Open in Carnoustie in July -- said: "I'm definitely not against that. We'll play for whatever makes him uncomfortable."

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Woods and Mickelson rarely played together on Thursdays and Fridays in their heyday, with tournament organizers keeping them apart to spread their top talent across the TV schedules.

They were never friends as they battled for supremacy, but they have become closer in recent years through Woods' role as a vice captain in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and, in turn, Mickelson's support for his old foe during his many back issues.

Their surprise practice round together at Augusta ahead of the Masters set tongues wagging about golf's new bromance.

"We've always had a mutual respect over the years, and I've always appreciated what he's done for the game of golf," added Mickelson. "Fifteen years ago my record against him sucked, and now it's OK. I'm doing better as time has gone on."