PARIS (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson on Tuesday dangled the mouth-watering prospect of a possible pairing with a resurgent Tiger Woods at this week’s Ryder Cup.
For years the rivalry between the men was one of golf’s talking points and their disastrous first-day pairing in the 2004 competition came to encapsulate an American team many observers felt for years was riven by egos.
The team’s two biggest players were sent out together in the opening match by captain Hal Sutton to make a statement but were beaten by Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington.
In the afternoon Sutton stuck with his plan, with the same result as they lost to Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, setting the tone for America’s biggest Ryder Cup defeat, and on home soil too.
It is baggage the two men have carried for 14 years; they have not combined since in the Ryder Cup.
Mickelson, who has played a lead role over the past four years helping create a more harmonious spirit in the U.S. team, said both would be keen to walk out together on Friday.
“I think we would both welcome it,” Mickelson told reporters at Le Golf National after a practice round with Woods and U.S. rookie Bryson DeChambeau.
Mickelson, 48, is playing in his 12th Ryder Cup and has never been part of a winning team on European soil. He and Woods were both wild card selections by U.S. captain Jim Furyk.
Pressed on whether Furyk planned on sending the two out together on Friday, Mickelson replied deadpan: “I do have an idea of what Captain Furyk is thinking, yeah.”
In Paris, Furyk and his players are sparing no effort to display what appears to a growing camaraderie in the U.S. camp. Mickelson refused to be drawn on why his relationship with Woods had soured in the past.
“It always comes across as I’m taking a shot at somebody, and I don’t want to do that anymore,” he said.
Furyk called Woods and Mickelson “huge, huge leaders” who were bringing on the young players in the side.
Asked whether anything could be read into Tuesday’s practice pairings, Furyk said: “Today is about trying to learn the golf course and hit some solid shots. There may be some pairings out there... they are all very aware of who they will be playing with this week.”
Mickelson heaped praise on 42-year-old Woods, whose first title win since 2013 on Sunday marked one of the sport’s most remarkable, and popular, comebacks.
“This is the best I think I’ve ever seen him swing the club, even going back to 2000, when I thought he was at his best,” Mickelson said. “Now that that first win is out of the way, I think he’s going to start rattling off some more.”
Mickelson and Woods last month agreed to a winner-takes-all $9 million purse contest on this year’s Thanksgiving weekend.
“Tiger striped it today. I think he missed one fairway for the round,” Mickelson joked. “We’ve got some negotiating to do”.
Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Christian Radnedge