PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida - Rarely has the contrast between golf as an enjoyable game and torturous frustration been as evident in two players as in the appearances of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods at the Players Championship on Tuesday.
Mickelson, a four-time major winner fresh from his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, sat casually with reporters ahead of Thursday's opening round and chatted about how much he loves the game.
But Woods, who missed a cut for only the eighth time in a PGA Tour event last week, looked far from happy discussing the seemingly endless “process” of working on the fourth swing change of his professional career.
After a series of dry explanations and testy rebuttals, the former world number one was asked whether there was any joy in the toil of trying to rediscover his winning touch. Judging from his response, the notion was totally alien to him.
“A joy? No, I don't enjoy missing cuts,” Woods said before shifting the focus back to his swing, reiterating an argument that this is simply a phase he went through even during the years when he assembled 14 majors.
“You're not going to play well every week. There are times when I have felt awful over a golf ball and I've still somehow won a golf tournament. It doesn't mean I feel comfortable but just somehow figured out a way,” he said.
For Woods, the man who once made the game look ridiculously easy, discomfort is now the goal as he tries to perfect the lessons of swing coach Sean Foley.
“When I get into what Sean wants me to do with my old setup where I'm comfortable, then I can hit an array of shots, because obviously my grip has changed, my posture and how I move through the golf ball is completely different. So that's where I get into the problems.
“Now, if I get completely uncomfortable and put myself in a position where it feels just awful, I hit it pure. So there's where I'm developing in the swing.
“It was the same way at Bay Hill where I was just committed to just feeling awful over the ball, and I hit it great. But that's the movement pattern. That's what's different.
“I've been through it with Butch (Harmon), I've been through it with Hank (Haney), and you get through stages like this, go through periods like this. We've all done it. It's just I'm in it right now.”
It is hard to imagine Mickelson enduring a similar process and when asked what he loved about the game, it was not hard for the left-hander to find the sources of pleasure.
“It's everything about the game,” said Mickelson. “Whether it's just the challenge of making contact and hitting the ball or the challenge of being creative and hitting shots around the greens.”
Mickelson's recollections of his early days playing the game were the kind that many could relate too.
“I loved going out there on a rainy day practicing under the palm tree when nobody was around hitting balls out onto the par-three course where I grew up.
“I love going down to the club and just hanging out, hanging out and spending time with the guys before and after a round. I just love everything about the game.
“It's been such a big part of my life, that I'm very appreciative that I get to do what I do. I'd like to see other people enjoy it the way I do.”
There are many who would love to see Woods enjoy it that way too and maybe, if the wins come back, he will be able to.
For now though, it is all about the struggle.
“It's a process, and I've said this numerous times, is that you keep building. There are certain times when you make great strides forward, and there's other times where you're going to take a stride or two backwards. It's a process.
“As we all know, golf is a work in progress, and you've just got to continue working, keep trying to get better.” – Reuters