Woods, Mickelson: Just two guys playing golfSAN DIEGO - The marine layer - a heavy mist higher than fog but lower than clouds - rested gently above the deeply Southern California coastline early Thursday. The sun broke through briefly about 9, but didn't burn it off till sometime after 10. By that time, the U.S. Open's historic pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson (along with tagalong Adam Scott) was well on their way, escorted by a huge throng.
It is part of modern golf lore that Woods and Mickelson aren't exactly Wally and The Beave, and here they were, No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, paired with No. 3 (Scott), a 1-2-3 grouping for the first time in U.S. Open history. Scott was, as it were, the man in the middle. Someone wondered whether he wished he were ranked, say, No. 4, and so duck this spotlight. He said the nicest things.
“No - I know it's a big pairing and there's a lot of hoopla. But I played with Phil a lot in majors. It seems like I get drawn with him a lot. But I enjoy playing with Tiger as well. I find it easier to focus because I think I've got to be a little more disciplined.”
So if there was a hook anywhere, Scott was safely off it. And he turned in a 2-over 73, not a bad start for a guy playing with a broken right hand (a pal slammed a car door on it in London).
For those scoring at home, it was Mickelson, a par 71 (thanks to a birdie at the par-5 18th), Woods a 72, and Scott a 73, and not threatening the lead.
Scott was the man in the middle but he was not called upon to referee. Whoever was looking for the Gunfight at OK Corral had to settle for two guys playing golf. This was just one guy playing golf, and then another guy playing golf, and they just happened to be near each other, if you were watching.
The big question was Woods' left knee. He needed athroscopic surgery just after the Masters. “The cartilage was in there, flying around, and they took that out,” he said. This is his first competition since then, and he's had limited practice. And what did he learn this day?
“Oh, I can walk 18 holes,” he said, with a reassuring chuckle. “I don't need a cart yet.”
Did the knee bother you?
“It's a little sore,” he said. Maybe it's even more sore than that. By the time he reached the 18th, he did seem to be favoring the knee, pulling his strike like a guy not fully in command of his leg.
Did he have to hold back?
“I just go play,” he insisted, clearly getting tired of questions about the knee.
Woods led off with a double bogey-6 at No. 1, swatting his drive way to the left. “That's fine,” he said. “Pitch out. But the wedge shot - I had all the room short of the hole and I fly it past the hole. It's just a terrible mistake.”
Mickelson, on the other hand, was like a guy going off the cliff at the nearby gliderport without his hang glider. He bogeyed three straight from No. 5, and that's a gosh in any language.
“It was not the best round,” Mickelson said. “I made a couple mistakes early on. But the back nine, I made some birdies.” The best was the 25-foot putt he dropped at the 10th.
If you want to talk statistics, the charts show they were fairly even. Woods hit 11 greens in regulation, Mickelson 13. Both hit only six of the 14 driving fairway, though some misses were just off the edge. Woods had two sand saves. Mickelson none. He wasn't bunkered. Woods averaged 1.6 putts, Mickelson 1.8.
Woods out-drove Mickelson, but driving distance doesn't count. Woods averaged 326 yards, but Mickelson stuck to his 3-wood, averaged about 285. It was about course management.
“My game plan was that I only want to hit it a certain distance,” said Mickelson. “I don't really want to hit it past 300 yards on most of the par-4s because it starts running into the rough. I felt with the fairways being firm, like they were today, all I needed was 3-wood on the holes.”
Except one time, shades of Winged Foot. He tried to hit a hybrid out of thick rough and moved the ball about, oh, 4 feet.
Woods, on the other hand, went pretty much full bore. It all worked out about the same.
Woods was asked no questions about Mickelson and offered no observations. Mickelson, on the other hand, was asked how Woods played. A kind of double standard there.
“I thought he played great,” Mickelson said. “He hit some great par putts. I thought that he fought hard and hit a lot of good shots.”
Mickleson is OK with where he is. “Anything around par is your target for the U.S. Open,” he said.
Said Woods: “To make two double bogeys and a 3-putt and be only four back - that's a great position to be in.”
And so ended the heavyweight bout everyone's been waiting for. And this coulda been one for the ages. But no. As fighters, they were just the Stiffs on the Cliffs.
Return to Latest News archives