UNITED STATES - In the pithy words of the Americans lay their disparate tales. On the par-five fifth, staring at his third shot which refused his command and flared to the right, Tiger Woods shouted: "Goddammit." At the par-five 17th, his three-wood taking off like a stone from David's catapult, Phil Mickelson yelled: "Go, baby, go."
It is also about as many words as they might say to each other in any given golfing week.
No one was surprised an American won the Open. The surprise was which one. The long-haired Mickelson who smiles like a greeter in a casino was five shots back and too far back. The balding Woods, who grimaced like a man in psychological pain, was close enough to scare Lee Westwood but close never wins prizes.
A 66 by Mickelson on a brutal course didn't make sense; alas, a final-round fold with a 74 by Woods is becoming predictable.
Mickelson is a hugging, kissing family man; Woods keeps his children away from the media and has the look of a loner. The first man is like a political candidate who wants to be embraced; the second would just prefer your awe. The first hangs out on the 18th green and has reporters making jokes with him. When Woods cracked a joke in the press tent earlier in the week, American writers took a while to recover from the jolt.
Woods used to be a one-man, red-shirted miracle factory; Mickelson was the artist who blew his chances. Now they've exchanged places. Woods is a strangely failing machine, having misplaced the part which seals the deal. He is proof of the vincibility of the invincible and a great story has become a sad, stumbling story.
In 2012, he started the US Open 69, 70 and finished 75, 73; at the 2013 Open it was 73, 70 and then 76, 74. At the 2012 British Open he went 67, 67 and then 70, 73. At the 2012 PGA Championship, he started 69, 71 and ended 74, 72. Under pressure, he broke men, now his game breaks down.
Woods, slimmer around the shoulders, still looks tough. Mickelson is tougher than he looks. He is the unmuscular, goofy hug machine you see, but there is a fire under his flab. He has had heartbreak at the US Open, been overshadowed by Woods, been confronted with his wife's cancer and has arthritis himself.