Tiger Or Phil? Easy Choice

Heading into Sunday at the Masters, Phil Mickelson is one shot off the lead and Tiger Woods is four shots off the lead. And if it comes down to Mickelson vs. Woods on the back nine, why in the world would anybody root for Woods?

I can understand Woods’ popularity. He’s by far the best golfer in the world, maybe the best in history, and one of the few athletes to ever transcend his sport. He’s a compelling figure, and the scandal — porn stars? really, Tiger? did you really need porn stars as mistresses? — is salaciously intriguing. From the detached standpoint of a Sports editor, Tiger makes for great copy.

But for all that he is trying to overcome — forgetting for a moment that it is entirely of his own making — Woods’ travails cannot be compared with Mickelson’s. Lefty’s wife has breast cancer; so does his mom. You want to talk about adversity? Try being in Mickelson’s shoes. While Woods was with some Perkins waitress — a waitress? really, Tiger? did you really need to cheat on your wife with some waitress? — Mickelson was dealing with cancer in his family.

Who’s the more sympathetic figure? Who’s the more likable figure? Who has faced the most adversity?

Rick Reilly wrote awhile back about there being two kinds of people — Phil people and Tiger people. Mickelson has always worn his flaws on his sleeve, while Woods did his best to present an image of impervious perfection. When somebody tries that hard to craft such a profile — his dad wrote a book called “Training a Tiger: A Father’s Guide to Raising a Winner in Both Golf and Life” — you can bet it’s only a veneer. Yet Woods’ flaws have been shocking in their depth and depravity.

Woods might very well win the Masters on Sunday. That would make for an incredible story. But don’t think for a second that he has faced a more difficult road than Mickelson.

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