Woods, Lefty part of heavyweight battle in Doral
DORAL, Fla. – The names up high transcend a leaderboard. They make for a marquee, brightly-lit and Broadway-worthy. Tiger Woods leads by a couple of strokes, and Phil Mickelson is joint third, three shy of the lead.
Sure, the club scene at nearby South Beach brings more interesting action, but as golf table settings for a weekend go, this is the tastiest kind.
We’ve got heavyweights Woods and Mickelson, with a Graeme McDowell sandwiched in between, and nary a marketeer or PR specialist is needed to stoke the ember. All anyone needs now is two eyes and a front-row seat.
“Star power,” McDowell noticed midway at the WGC Cadillac Championship.
Trump Doral course owner Donald Trump, of course, loves grandiose. Now he has it in the form of golf’s two tallest buildings. Suddenly everyone seemed to forget about Rory McIlroy battling a slump.
“Great to see the best players in the game playing as well as they are,” McDowell said of the Tiger-Phil combo platter. “Always exciting to have Tiger and Phil playing well. It brings the crowds out and puts people behind their TV screens, and that’s what’s important.”
Figure on high theater because both men seem to be hitting on close to all cylinders, which also should delight men who wear green in Georgia.
In shooting 13-under-par 131 (66-65), Woods made 17 birdies, his most ever for the first 36 holes of a PGA Tour event. He’s hitting his irons close and making putt after putt thanks largely to a lengthy hands-on lesson from Steve Stricker. All of his eight birdies Friday came on putts no longer than 16 feet, only two coming inside 8 feet. He also saved par from 11 feet and never missed inside 10.
Woods walked off calling Doral’s Blue Monster at “tough, tough track,” but you’d never know it by his performance. Nor would you have figured he had a bad warmup session and went to the first tee not feeling good about his swing.
“It was sporadic,” he said. “But all I needed was one good shot.”
A 4-iron shot to within 4 1/2 feet on the 239-yard fourth hole got him on track to stay. Probably the game’s best long-iron player, Woods also made deuce at the 224-yard 13th on a 16-footer. He would go on to hit 15 greens in regulation and end up second in a couple of putting categories after two rounds.
Woods again thanked his pal Stricker for straightening out his fundamentals, though cracked, “But he’s still not getting a percentage.”
Speaking of percentages, Woods has gone on to win 35 of the 45 times he has had a 36-hole Tour lead. Given that and his current form, he will be difficult to beat, particularly since Doral Blue figures to get faster, firmer, harder and eventually windier.
Both Woods and Mickelson say they enjoy battling each other on weekends. The left-hander, though, again sounded more enthusiastic about it after his second straight 67.
“I saw Tiger was playing well and I wanted to make a couple of birdies to get in the group with him,” said Mickelson, who instead will play with co-third Steve Stricker for the third consecutive day. “It seems since 2007 when we played at Deutsche Bank in Boston, I’ve been playing some of my best golf when we get paired together. . . . He seems to somehow bring out my best golf.”
Though he won this year in Phoenix, Mickelson says he’s playing better now thanks to some simple tweaking a few days ago with instructor Butch Harmon. He says his rhythm is better and he feels he can hit iron shots much closer.
“That has made all the difference in the world,” Mickelson said.
Statistics support his contention. Mickelson leads the field in greens in regulation (31 of 36). All of his birdies came from inside 16 feet, including a near ace on his closing hole, the ninth.
He clearly was excited when finishing. But then given the compelling scoreboard scenario, he hardly was alone.