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Thomas Boswell

They're Walking All Over Each Other

By Thomas Boswell
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page E01


Hold onto your handbags, ladies and gentlemen. There's a hissy fit in Amen Corner.

Vijay Singh says Phil Mickelson wears extra-large spikes, drags his feet on the greens, leaves big cleat marks and does not fix them. In other words, Mickelson is careless and unsporting at best, and perhaps even a deliberate cheater at worst.

Mickelson responds, by news release no less, that Singh is a tattletale gamesman who sicced the officials on him twice in one round, sending a couple of old fuddy-duddies to examine the bottoms of his shoes and distracting him from his game.

For three days of this Masters, Singh has played in the group directly behind Mickelson and for three days he has stewed. And that situation won't change Sunday. With much of the third round of this Masters still to be completed, Singh will be watching Mickelson's tracks when Sunday's play begins, too.

To add to this drawing room drama, worthy of the BBC, both men are on the leader board entering Sunday when, with so many holes left to play, any of the top 10 players could win if leader Chris DiMarco falters.

Golf doesn't have fistfights. It doesn't even have food fights. Nobody gets a concussion from a blitzing linebacker or a fastball to the head.

At the Champions Dinner before the Masters here this week, the best players in the world sat at close quarters for hours and said, "Pass the foie gras," not "So's your mama."

So, when it comes to out-in-the-open golf conflict, in the last 25 years there may not have been as tasty a contretemps between two such famous players in the midst of a major championship. In the game of gentlemen, it doesn't get more delicious and precious than a "your-manners-are-worse-than-mine" showdown between the defending Masters champion and the world's top-ranked player.

For context, neither Singh nor Mickelson is widely liked in pro golf locker rooms. Long ago, Singh was thrown off the Asian Tour after being accused of cheating and has always been a chip-on-the-shoulder loner on the PGA Tour. Does Singh carry scars to his aloof psyche from a distant time that no one else in golf cares about?

Despite his enormous and cultivated popularity with galleries, Mickelson sometimes has an Eddie Haskell manner that grates on rival players. Do they simply envy him or do they see through him?

To add to the piquancy, all of the friction between the two was actually summarized by Mickelson in his news release that arrived late Friday evening and was the buzz of Augusta on Saturday.

"On the 13th hole, two officials approached me at two different times. They were sent by Vijay to check my spikes because he felt they were unduly damaging the greens. If that is the case, I am very apologetic and will make every effort to tap down what spike marks I may make in the future," Mickelson's release read. "However, I was extremely disappointed and would have appreciated it if it would have been handled differently or after the round."

Anyone have suggestions on how it could have been "handled differently"? On public courses all over America there is a standard procedure for such situations. You yell at the top of your lungs, "Pick up your feet or I'll brain you with this wedge."

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