Woods, Mickelson tee it up

Thoughts of '05 dramatics raise Doral expectations

nine of world's top 10 in tournament

March 02, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

Miami -- As usual, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson managed to avoid being in the same place for most of the PGA Tour's West Coast swing.

Except for the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, which Woods won and in which Mickelson finished tied for eighth, the PGA Tour's biggest draws haven't been together in 2006.

That will change today when Woods and Mickelson are part of a field that includes nine of the world's top 10-ranked players in the Ford Championship at Doral. What happened here between the two in the final round last year still reverberates, with hopes of it being reprised come Sunday.

A year ago, Woods shot a final-round 66, overcoming a two-stroke deficit and going ahead with a birdie on 17 before watching Mickelson's chip-in to tie at 18 appear to be heading for the hole before curling away from the cup at the last moment.

"I would love to get in that position again," Mickelson said yesterday. "I want to have a chance to win the tournament, obviously. It would be great if I had a chance to go head-to-head against Tiger, it would be great if I had a chance to go head-to-head against anybody in the top 10 in the world."

Said Woods: "It's just fun. It's an opportunity to go one-on-one and eyeball-to-eyeball because you don't get a chance to do that very often."

This time, Woods and Mickelson come into Doral with varying levels of confidence.

After winning his first two events -- following up a playoff victory in San Diego with another in Dubai -- Woods barely made the cut in the Nissan Open, withdrew because of the flu and then was knocked out of last week's Match Play Championship in the third round.

Mickelson played well on the West Coast, but has had problems with his putting. He also lost in the third round last week.

"In the past, I have not putted Bermuda [greens] well," Mickelson said. "But as I've played more and more, listened to Bones, my caddie, who grew up playing Bermuda greens, I'm feeling much more comfortable on these surfaces. Last year, I putted very well [at Doral] and I should hopefully have a good week this week."

Given the strength of the field this week, the history of the Blue Monster course as well as the tournament, Doral has the feel of a major. Next year, it will be the site of the season's first World Golf Championship event, with Computer Associates taking over as its sponsor and the tournament being played late in the Florida swing rather than first.

"I think once they improved the golf course, once they basically made the changes and went back to how it was played, you see a lot of the guys coming back," Woods said.

With the exception of eighth-ranked Adam Scott of Australia, everyone in the top 10 will be playing.

Vijay Singh, ranked second behind Woods, lost in a playoff in the season-opening Mercedes Championships and has three other top 10s. Retief Goosen of South Africa, ranked third, played in his first PGA Tour event of the season last week, losing in the quarterfinals. Ernie Els, coming back from knee surgery and ranked fourth, lost to Woods in the playoff in Dubai but has yet to be a factor in his first two PGA Tour events.

Asked how much more excitement is generated at tournaments when one or more of the big names is in the hunt, Woods said: "I think you've kind of seen that. You've seen the top guys up there. Sometimes maybe not, you've seen myself, Mickelson, Goose, Ernie or Vijay, generally one of us five in just about every major championship."

Mickelson spent yesterday afternoon practicing on one of Doral's four adjacent courses. Thinking he was on the par-5 16th of the Red course, Mickelson and his swing coach, Rick Smith, actually were on the 16th of the Gold course, forcing those playing through to tee it up from about 175 yards out.

But forgive Mickelson for his confusion.

All he has heard about and seen since arriving here earlier this week has been what happened a year ago against Woods, one shot in particular.

"Unfortunately, they have the video running on one of the channels here at the hotel, so I get to see it every night. Isn't that great?" Mickelson said of his final chip. "Every time I look at it with 3 or 4 feet to go, it looks like it's going to go right in the middle."

He smiled.

"I keep waiting for the video to change, but it never does."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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