Norman dissects Tiger-Lefty rivalry

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HUMBLE, Texas – Greg Norman thinks Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are equal in every category, except when it comes to Woods’ ability to sink long putts under pressure.

“Tiger Woods, to me, is the best clutch putter I’ve ever seen in the game of golf,” said Norman, who’s playing in this week’s Shell Houston Open. “I think Tiger’s got him on the mental edge and Tiger has got him outside 9 feet. That would be my assessment of the two.”

Woods sank a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole at Bay Hill last Sunday to beat Sean O’Hair. Norman, the world’s No. 1 player for 331 weeks between 1986-98, said only Jack Nicklaus rivals Woods when it comes to sinking putts when they matter most.

“I think he and Nicklaus are equal inside 6 feet,” Norman said. “Outside 9 feet, Woods is by far the best you’ve ever seen play the game.”

Norman shared a dais with Fred Couples in a wide-ranging interview session at Redstone on Wednesday. The two will captain the opposing teams in the Presidents’ Cup in October.

Both say it’s too early to break down the points standings and project which players will make their teams. Norman said he’ll play practice rounds with a few leading candidates for the international squad next week at Augusta.

Couples, meanwhile, said Woods sent him an amusing text message about making the U.S team after winning on Sunday.

“The other day, I congratulated him,” Couples said. “He said, ‘Yeah, I got a lot of Ryder Cup points.’ I said, ‘That’s really nice of you, but it’s the Presidents’ Cup this year.’ (He said), ‘I know what year it is.’ ”

Woods sat out the Ryder Cup last year as he recovered from knee surgery. The United States beat Europe convincingly without him and Couples said he’s heard some suggest that the team might play better without the No. 1 player.

Couples said Woods addressed that notion in a text message, too.

“ ‘Do you want me on your team? My knee can be bad that week. You guys won the Ryder Cup,’ ” Couples said, relaying the message. “It’s all fun stuff, but I need him on the team.”

If Woods hadn’t won at Bay Hill, Mickelson would’ve had a chance to overtake him this week for the No. 1 world ranking. Couples and Norman expect the two stars to end up going head-to-head down the stretch at Augusta.

Next week, it’s going to be the Tiger and Phil show,” Norman said, “because the golf course sets up perfectly for both those players.”

Couples said Woods’ victory last week re-established him as the world’s top player, even though Mickelson has six top-10 finishes since Woods had knee surgery after winning last year’s U.S. Open.

“I don’t really know the facts and figures of how you become No. 1 when a guy hasn’t played for six, seven months,” Couples said. “Phil would have won another couple tournaments and passed him. Yeah, I think at that time, he (Phil) may have been the better player, but Tiger has been the best player for eight years or however long. So it was a little misleading.”

If the Presidents’ Cup ends in a tie, as it did in 2003 in South Africa, Norman suggested that he and Couples should have a duel of their own, a 1-on-1 sudden-death playoff to decide the winner.

Couples endorsed the idea.

“We’ll sit around for seven days and go play,” Couples said. “Wow. That would be good, though.”

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