Hate to be Rude

Hate to be Rude

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Hate to be Rude

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SAN DIEGO – The Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson Show is no more. It’s been cut in half to just the Tiger Show.

But, hey, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin split up and they both survived as solo acts.

• That said, their Thursday-Friday show was as good as golf gets. It’s as close to Bird-Magic or Ali-Frazier as golf gets. Torrey Pines had the feel of a heavyweight title fight site at times.

That especially was the case when Woods eagled 13 and when both he and Mickelson birdied the fifth and when those two and Adam Scott all got within 12 feet at the 183-yard eighth.

That last piece of brilliance was a case of great-better-best. Woods hit to 12 feet, Mickelson to 6 feet and Scott hit the stick, his ball ending up a couple of inches away.

That’s the snapshot of the year in my golf scrapbook.

• Woods shot 68 thanks to great putting and is one shot off of Stuart Appleby’s lead. Mickelson shot a six-bogey 75 largely because of poor driving and is seven back.

Woods, limping at times on his sore knee, looks like a guy who is going to win his 14th major. Putting skill and familiarity with Torrey Pines’ greens seem to set him apart, as they do here at the Buick Invitational, where he has won six times.

Woods handles bumpy seaside poa annua greens as if there are no bumps. That was especially the case when he birdied four of the first five holes on the front Friday (his second nine) with putts in the 18- to 20-foot range.

The fact he’s not a die putter helps. His firm putts roll up and over the imperfections.

• Look at the 13 players within three shots of the lead and ask yourself this: Are any of those other guys going to beat him?

• Here’s the deal on Woods’ knee. Yeah, it hurts. Yeah, he has tweaked it a couple of times. Yeah, he has to treat it at night and in the morning.

But he has been working out every day, doing his usual routine. That means this: The knee affects him more with walking than playing golf. It’s hardly an obstacle blocking his path to the top of the scoreboard.

“Obviously it’s not something he can’t deal with,” said his instructor, Hank Haney.

• The Woods-Mickelson pairing drew much, much more buzz Friday afternoon (1:36 tee time) than on Thursday morning (8:06 tee time). Crowds were far more expressive and louder.

Why?

Alcohol is one major reason. Not only do most people not drink booze in the morning, U.S. Open alcohol sales don’t start until 11 a.m.

• If I’ve felt more electricity in golf, it was at the 2002 Open at Bethpage, the 2004 Masters when Mickelson outdueled Ernie Els amid aces and eagles, or at a Ryder Cup. The ones in 1991, 1995 and 1999 come to mind.

• Anyone who criticizes the Woods-Mickelson pairing wasn’t watching. Or listening. Or feeling.

The USGA struck gold. Now it needs to stick with the program and pair top players together annually.

• Someone 44 shot 66, low round of the tournament. I’d light a cigar and hoist a wine glass to Miguel Angel Jimenez, but I’m sure he’s doing that himself as we write.

• In fact, Jimenez was smoking on the course, with his clubs and cigar. There’s a no-smoking rule at this Open, with a proviso: It’s OK inside the ropes. Jimenez expressed glee over that.

Yet another reason for him to light up and celebrate.

• Players used to gripe about over-the-top U.S. Open setups, seemingly every year. Now they seem to go out of their way to praise the work of USGA competitions chief Mike Davis. It’s common to hear a player call this the “fairest” Open setup.

It’s such a love-a-thon I almost don’t feel like I’m at an Open.

• That’s not to say everyone’s relaxed. Two-time Open champion Ernie Els, fighting his way out of a slump while undergoing a swing change, clearly was perturbed when asked how it feels being in contention entering U.S. Open weekend.

Els, three shots off the midway lead, paused and replied, “It feels good.”

People witnessing the mass interview session laughed. Els did not. He took a step, as if to exit stage right, and muttered, “I’m outta here.”

To his credit, the Big Easy stayed to answer more questions. But the Big Easy doesn’t appear to be as peaceful as he once was, pre-injury and pre-slump.

• If Woods wins this year with one knee, they should make him play next year on one knee.

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