Rickie, JT on Playing 1-on-1 vs. Tiger and Phil: ‘I Always Talk a lot of Trash’

Rickie, JT on Playing 1-on-1 vs. Tiger and Phil: ‘I Always Talk a lot of Trash’ article feature image

Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas

  • Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas have both played in a bunch of money matches against Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
  • Fowler and Thomas discuss the secret to beating both of them head-to-head, and give their picks for "The Match."

We’ll be deprived of some specific expert analysis when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson compete in “The Match” on Nov. 23 in Las Vegas — and it’s all Jordan Spieth’s fault.

Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas each separately told me they were approached by producers to commentate for the pay-per-view broadcast, but had to decline because the event coincides with Spieth’s wedding, which they’re both attending.

But they can still provide some analysis for us.

Both Fowler and Thomas have won — and lost — against Woods and Mickelson in friendly money games over the past few years. That gives each of them a unique perspective from which to view the competition.

I asked them to break down the secret to beating each of these players and who one they thought would win.

How would you handicap this match?

Fowler: “I have to put it straight-up. I know Phil hasn’t been playing his best, but Shadow Creek is place where both of them have spent time. I don’t look at it as that demanding off the tee. It’s a place where Phil will be fine, so I don’t think driving is in Tiger’s favor. I don’t care how bad Phil is hitting it, you get a 7-iron in his hands and he’ll be fine. The thing is, Tiger has that switch. So you never know when he’s going to turn it on.”

Thomas: “It’s obviously hard to handicap, just because at any level of really good players, it’s just a matter of what you have on that day. Shadow Creek is a great place. It’s a narrow course; if you’re hitting it way off line in a match play format, it’s probably a loss of hole. Then again, we’re talking about probably one of the best iron players in the world. Phil — especially in match play — you can never take him out of a hole. The idea is really, really cool. They’re both very deserving of this opportunity.”

What’s the secret to beating Tiger?

Fowler: “Just hope he doesn’t play really good [laughs]. You know that if he’s on that day, you better have your s*** together and you’d better be on, too. For me, when I go play either of these guys, I just can’t give them a hole. I have to stay in there — wearing out fairways, wearing out greens, not giving them anything. But that’s match play in general.”

Thomas: “I think you beat Tiger by just grilling him. I’ve always talked a lot of trash; I never stop talking and I’m not going to let someone step all over me. I always tell them, ‘I’ve been out on Tour five years and you haven’t done anything during that time.’ I think that’s why Tiger and Phil respect me the way they do. So I’m always talking, grilling him, saying little things. He’s known as having the best focus of anyone in the history of golf, but the more you can get him out of that focus, the better — and there’s nobody better at that than Phil.”

What’s the secret to beating Phil?

Fowler: “Fairways and greens and wear him out. There are times when he hits every fairway or close to it, but it doesn’t happen a whole lot. He’ll be the first to admit that. For me, that’s been where I’ve gotten him — when I play simple golf, hit fairways and greens, and put him in the position where he’s fighting to come back.”

Thomas: “It’s sometimes the opposite for Phil — and he’s said that before. He hates playing against Jordan; he hates it, because I’m sitting there jawing and talking and Jordan never says anything or retaliates. He just plays good golf. Phil hates that. He wants someone to chirp back, because he knows that means he’s in the guy’s head. What you think might get to him is actually the opposite.” 

If you’re putting your money on one of ‘em, who do you think wins this match?

Fowler: “If I have money on the line? You don’t know who’s going to turn it on, but I want to put it on Phil, to piss Tiger off and to see what he’s got.”

Thomas: “You can’t put me on the spot! I love both of those guys. If I say one, the other one is going to be giving me grief forever. It’s hard to say. Phil has probably played the course more, but it probably fits Tiger better. Vegas has Tiger favored — and you never go against Vegas, so I guess I’ll go with him.”

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