“Second is, the one player I’m most concerned about if I play my best golf, that may have a chance to beat me, is Tiger.”
Woods and Mickelson first played together in the 1997 PGA Championship. Since then, neither has a distinct advantage. In 30 professional rounds together, Woods has shot a better score 13 times, Mickelson has done so 13 times, and they have matched each other four times. That has tilted recently in Mickelson’s direction. In their last 12 rounds together, dating to 2007, Mickelson has shot the better score eight times.
Andy Zhang is believed to be the youngest player in championship history. He was born in China and has lived in Florida since 2008. Zhang lost in a playoff at a sectional qualifier and was an alternate until Paul Casey withdrew with injuries.
“When we first started playing together, I don’t know what it was exactly, but I didn’t play my best when we were paired together,” Mickelson said. “And the last five years or so, I’ve been able to focus clearly when we’ve played. I’ve been able to enjoy the challenge of playing with him.”
The grouping with Watson — who played down his place in the spotlight by saying, “They’re not going to be focused on what I’m doing; hopefully I’m not going to be focused on what they’re doing” — will serve as a guide to what story lines will take shape for the weekend, even before the tournament is six hours old. Woods is coming off a scintillating performance at the Memorial, where he birdied three of the final four holes for his second victory of the season. Mickelson, conversely, shot 79 in the opening round of the same tournament, then withdrew, citing “mental fatigue.”
“I don’t see myself as a favorite,” Mickelson said.
Woods would certainly count as one. But so might Donald, who is seeking his first major championship. Olympic plays to a par of 70 and stretches to 7,170 yards, short by U.S. Open standards, and the Donald’s precision might be perfect on a tight layout that, for once, takes a premium off killing the ball.
So if Donald or McIlroy or Westwood or someone else starts his tournament Thursday with a lovely 68, take note. But understand, too, why it might be a footnote to what happens in that 7:33 a.m. tee time off of No. 9.
“If I was a golf fan I’d want to watch that group,” McIlroy said, “because I’m sure you’ll see some fireworks.”
Thursday, Friday tee times
No easy path at Olympic
Marino happy to be healthy
Zhang, 14, youngest ever to play
Casey Martin back on scene