The long-standing acrimony between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the player who has come closest in recent campaigns to threatening the status of the undisputed world No 1, was put to one side after the conclusion of the US PGA Tour's prestigious FedEx Cup in Atlanta. Both the big names of golf sported beaming smiles at the end of the Tour Championship - the last of the four FedEx tournaments - Mickelson having brought his difficult year to a triumphant end by winning the event, Woods having held on to his overall points lead to claim the $10 million (Dh36.7m) top purse in his sport.
Mickelson was careful to add the "only joking" rider to his celebration speech after a final round of 65 had given him a three-stroke victory over Woods, who could manage only a level par 70. "Let me see if I get this straight," said Mickelson, who came from four shots behind overnight leader Kenny Perry to triumph. "I shot 65 and Tiger shot 70 and gets a cheque for $10m? I'm just kidding." Mickelson knew before he teed it up at the East Lake Club that his arch rival had a strong grip on the overall honour - the eventual points aggregate of 3,750 was well clear of the rest who were ultimately headed by Mickelson's 2,920 - but the left-hander was more concerned with his own return to the winner's enclosure after a traumatic year off the course.
Tasting victory for the third time this year but the first time since his wife and mother were diagnosed with cancer in the spring, he reflected: "This has not been a banner year for me but this makes it a better year than it was." Pocketing a total of $4.35m for his efforts in Atlanta he enthused: "It really feels great to have won. It's been a frustrating last few months and so to be able to come out and get somewhat in contention on a Sunday - four back - and then to be able to put together this round feels terrific."
Mickelson added: "It means a lot to finish the year off on such a good note. We've been through a lot, and I'm very proud of my wife and my mum on the fight that they've been through. We're in good shape. Although day-to-day is tough, and it's not easy for them, we're fortunate that our long-term outlook is good." It was only the ninth occasion that the two biggest names in golf had finished first and second and Woods, who generally gets the job done when in contention in the closing round, was magnanimous towards his fellow American, with whom he has enjoyed an uneasy professional relationship.
"Phil played well," said Woods. "He did the things he needed to do this week. Unfortunately, I didn't putt well and I didn't push him. Phil ran off and got away from us." The lucrative pay day compensates Woods for a season barren of a win in one of the four main events on the calendar. Irritated though he was by his failure to add to his tally of 14 majors, he attaches great significance to the fact that he has notched six victories and three runner-up placings in a campaign that did not start until late February because of a knee operation.
"There was so many unknowns at the beginning of the season," said Woods. "So to play as consistently as I have, I certainly wouldn't have expected that." Woods admitted: "I'm sure I will probably be more happy tomorrow than I am right now, because you're in the moment trying to win this event. Winning takes care of everything. I'm trying to beat Phil, he's trying to beat me."