A Familiar Read
The story of Phil Mickelson's golf career unfolded once again here in the second round of the U.S. Open on the Pacific bluffs of Torrey Pines. The name of that book, unfortunately for Mickelson, is "The Life and Times of Tiger Woods." Phil's always a subtitle.
Playing head-to-head with Mickelson and Adam Scott, the world's No. 3 player, Woods unleashed a 5-under 30 on his final nine holes of the second round to move within one shot of midway leader Stuart Appleby and transform the face of this Open.
"I was just trying to stay patient, get back to even par," said Woods, who was 3 over after 27 holes when he started his assault. "All of a sudden, I made a [birdie] putt on my 10th hole [No. 1], and all of a sudden they kept flying in from everywhere."
Since Woods played the front nine as his back nine, his cymbal crash of birdies arrived at holes No. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 9 with putts of 18, 26, 18, 22 and finally a mere five feet. Yes, almost 100 feet of birdie putts in little more than two hours, every one smoothly into the hole on bumpy Poa annua greens that have bedeviled almost everyone else.
"No, I couldn't have shot any lower," said Woods, who actually did have two other (theoretically) makable putts. "A 30 for nine holes in the Open isn't too bad."
Every major golf championship is always about Woods, of course. But this time, just this once, on Mickelson's boyhood home course just miles from his house, on a track he knows, in a week when Woods is just returning from knee surgery, Mickelson and all his roaring minions here thought that surely, this was Phil's Open -- his one best chance. Why, it's even his 38th birthday on Monday. No time to waste, the years pass fast.
"This was the Open title that would make up -- sort of -- for all of Mickelson's pain. Make up for Payne Stewart's 72nd hole birdie at Pinehurst that left Phil a runner-up for one of four times in his career. This week could also compensate for Mickelson's unthinkable three-putt from four feet on the 71st hole at Shinnecock and even for his "I am such an idiot" double bogey crash at the 72nd hole at Winged Foot two years ago.
But nobody ever tells Tiger it's somebody else's week, somebody else's world, even if only as a one-week rental. So, limping slightly at times, Woods simply ignored Mickelson's existence and his fans roars. Even a baby crying beside a tee didn't upset him. A baby? Yes, it's laid-back San Diego. What's the fuss, dude? Why not bring an infant to the Open? On Sunday, why not give the kid a cellphone and a rattle?
For volume and for stunning shots during Woods's blitz, this Open approached the sudden shock value of Jack Nicklaus's first-round 63 in 1980 ("Jack's Back") or Woods's own route of the field at Pebble Beach in 2000.
As for Mickelson, he ended the day in shock after giving up eight shots to Woods in the last 15 holes. After a fading 71-75 -- 146, he finds himself tied for 35th place.
"It was a tough day for me today. I didn't hit balls in the fairway," said Mickelson, who once again played without a driver in his bag -- ironic, to say the least, because he won the '06 Masters playing with two drivers. "When I made a birdie, I followed it with a bogey. Every time I did something good, I didn't keep the momentum going."
Perhaps that is one of the crucial differences between Woods and Mickelson. When Woods makes a birdie, it seems to focus him more, center him deeper and drive out the rest of the world. When Mickelson excites the fans, he interacts with them, thinks he feeds off them, but perhaps lets them amp him too high.