Commentary

Jason Sobel's blog -- CA Championship

Updated: March 13, 2009, 10:00 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Editor's note: Jason Sobel's blog from the WGC-CA Championship will return Saturday at 1 ET.

6:30 p.m. ET: Before the 2007 Masters, Phil Mickelson was asked about playing golf in the Tiger Woods era.

"It's a fun challenge to beat him," Mickelson said. "He's most likely the best player the game has ever seen. To be able to play against him in his prime is a great challenge. [But] if I have a great rest of my career and win 20 more tournaments and seven more majors to get to 50 wins and 10 majors, which would be an awesome career, I still won't get to where he's at today. So I don't try to compare myself to him."

Two years and five victories later, Mickelson still isn't any closer to catching Woods. And he's OK with that. Of course, he's also OK with being 10 shots ahead of the guy he has chased for so long here at the WGC-CA Championship.

That's right -- in case you're just tuning into the action at Doral, Lefty's 65-66 has him at 13-under and TW's 71-70 has him in a share of 35th place. Of course, look at the stats -- well, a few of 'em, at least -- and it would be tough to tell the disparity:

Lefty vs. Tiger

Woods (-3) Mickelson (-13)
Fairways hit 17 14
GIR 23 20

Of course, those numbers don't tell the entire story. Let's take a look at some other stats around the greens:

Short-game magic

Woods (-3) Mickelson (-13)
Chip-ins 0 4
Putts 56 42 *
Birdies 7 16 *
* leads the field through 36 holes

Uh ... drive for show, putt for dough, anyone?

That's 14 fewer putts for Mickelson so far this week -- it's no surprise that he's so much higher than Woods entering the final 36.

That'll do it for the Round 2 blog here at Doral. I'll be back for Moving Day, as Mickelson tries to retain his lead and Woods attempts to climb the leaderboard. Until then, hit 'em straight ...


5:58 p.m. ET: E-mail from Sean in Dallas:

I don't think I've seen a blog posting about how Sergio's 72-72 make it look like he's unlikely to overtake TW, despite what looks like a middling performance by Tiger. I'd like to hear your spin on it.

Well, obviously Garcia hasn't taken advantage of what could have been a big opportunity. I mean, how often will Tiger finish 27th or lower? It could happen this week, but Sergio is even worse off.

That said, his quest isn't about just getting to No. 1 this week. This is a long-term thing. He'll also have a similar chance at Bay Hill and, likely, at Augusta. This story popped up for the first time this week, but it could be an ongoing subplot for much of the season.


5:48 p.m. ET: Some quotes from Tiger's post-round interview session:

On his round: "I just never got anything going. It's frustrating, especially knowing the golf course can be had."

On his second round compared to his first: "Today felt a lot better than I did yesterday. Just the flow of it, the feel."

On his distance control: "I haven't hit too many shots pin-high. I haven't played in this kind of wind in a while, in a tournament, at least."

On the stretching he was doing out on the course: "My right ankle is a little sore. It's just stiff. I haven't walked in a while."

On how he feels physically: "Physically, I'm as happy as can be. I wake up feeling great. All the training I've done, all the rehab I've done, has been great."

On how he is hitting it off the tee: "This is the way I've been driving it at home. I've been driving it well."

On Phil Mickelson's comment that he'd prefer to have Tiger on the leaderboard: "Me too."

On his chances this weekend: "Anytime you're trying to make up a deficit, you've got to get off to a quick start and you've got to have help. ... I'm not really in control of my own destiny."

On Prayad Marksaeng being low Thai so far: "He is. And I'm low Cablinasian, too."


5:34 p.m. ET: Woods does indeed make a par on 18. That's a 71-70 start; he's now 10 shots behind leader Phil Mickelson.

TW is in the scoring trailer -- well, the scoring hotel room, really -- but I'll try to pass along some post-round quotes when I get 'em.


5:32 p.m. ET: After Mike Weir nearly made an all-world birdie by chipping in from behind the green on 18, Tiger Woods' short chip from pin-high right rolls down the slope and stops about 2 feet from the cup.

He'll have that left for a 2-under 70.


5:25 p.m. ET: E-mail from my buddy Casey in Austin, Texas:

Mickelson is two shots clear of the field. He's also T-70 in greens in regulation -- in an 80 man field. Try to figure out Phil Mickelson. I dare you.

I have tried. Many, many times. And I can't do it. To me, the three most mystifying players in the world are Ernie Els, David Duval and Phil Mickelson. I never know what to expect from any of 'em at any given time.

Honestly, Phil could shoot two more 65s and win by 7 or not make another birdie for the final two rounds and neither would shock me.


5:17 p.m. ET: I've gotten this question many times throughout the day, but now that he's playing the final hole, I think it's more pertinent:

How many strokes back can Tiger Woods be heading into the weekend and still have a legit chance of winning?

Well, it's sort of a loaded question.

He can certainly come from 10 strokes back, which is the deficit right now. (It should be noted that ANYONE in this field has that ability, not just him.)

What should trouble Tiger right now, though, are two things: First of all, if he was 10 shots back but separated from the leader by only seven or eight players, his chances would be much better.

Instead, there are 40-something guys between Phil and Tiger. Secondly, it's not as if somewhat unproven guys -- at least in this level of tourney -- like Prayad Marksaeng and Jeev Milkha Singh are in the lead. Despite public perception of him, Phil Mickelson is indeed a closer, as backed by his 35 career wins.

So basically, it's not impossible for Woods, but it sure won't be easy, either.


5:12 p.m. ET: No practice stroke, no problem.

Tiger raps in the short birdie putt. He's at 3-under heading to the daunting 18th.

And I'm still not eating a divot.


5:11 p.m. ET: If Tiger misses this one, I'll eat a divot.

Wait, no. I take that back. After all, Mickelson had a 2-footer for birdie earlier today, but after I had already called it a gimme, he missed.

Well, TW now has one from the same distance for birdie on 17. I'm 99 percent sure he'll make it. But I've seen some strange things today. And eating a divot isn't really how I want to finish off this round.


5:09 p.m. ET: Some more notes on Phil Mickelson, courtesy of ESPN's research department:

• Phil Mickelson has never won a WGC event. In six previous WGC-CA Championships (also known as the American Express Championship), Lefty has been in the top 15 after two rounds only once, the first year in 1999.

Phil Mickelson -- WGC-CA Championship, after two rounds

2008 -- T-20th
2007 -- T-57th
2005 -- T-56th
2003 -- T-43rd
1999 -- T-9th


5:07 p.m. ET: Tiger Woods missed that birdie putt on 16, stays at 2-under.

It's funny -- reading his body language, it almost appears as if he's resigned to the fact that nothing is working right for him no matter what he tries. It's a frustrating notion for any golfer, but at least we all know where he's coming from.


4:58 p.m. ET: After Jeev Milkha Singh made double on his final hole to fall to 8-under, our new current second-place man is Nick Watney. This guy started the year outside of the top 200 on the OWGR, but vaulted up the list with his win at Torrey Pines in January.

And as I seem to mention every day, he's got one of the five sweetest swings on tour. When I asked him yesterday what the difference in his game has been this season, he told me without hesitation, "Putting."

I'm telling you -- and yes, I know I said all of this about 24 hours ago -- if this guy can roll his rock pretty well, he's going to be a superstar. The next step in his coming-out party could happen this week.

One other interesting note: Watney is a Butch Harmon disciple. If all remains the same, he'll likely play with Phil Mickelson tomorrow, who of course also works with Butch.


4:54 p.m. ET: After "laying up," so to speak, off the tee on the short par-4 16th, Woods hits a dart to about 10-12 feet. He'll have that left for birdie.

You'd better believe Tiger would love to grind out a few birdies here at the end of his round, so as to carry a little momentum into the final 36 holes.


4:41 p.m. ET: Getting many e-mails like this one from Rob in Parts Unknown:

Do you ever tire of talking about Tiger?! It's as if you have a Tiger quota that you need to reach on each of your blog entries. It's absolutely absurd.

First things first: As if to only prove any point I could make by writing about his popularity, right now at the 15th hole, there are at least three times more fans here to watch Tiger than when I was here a few hours ago with Mickelson, who just happens to be leading. I cannot overstate how much this guy drives the needle.

Secondly, his return to competitive golf after an eight-month layoff is the most compelling story in the game. Simply put, it deserves to be covered -- whether he's playing well or not.

And lastly -- and I'll be very honest here -- I've been getting mixed signals from fans in the thousands of e-mails I've received during the year's first two live blogs.

At the Match Play, when I produced an all-Tiger blog for two days, I heard all about how I should be writing on the other 63 guys in the field. Yesterday and for the early part of today, when I was covering the leaders and other stories, I heard from readers that all they wanted to know about was Tiger and nothing else.

I'm not complaining. Never said this blog coverage is an easy thing. But just want to let everyone out there know that you're in two very divided camps. And trying to please everybody is never going to work.

So, yes, I'll cover Tiger pretty diligently, but I will also write about the other 79 players here. It's a fine line and I'm doing my best to straddle it. Just wanted to let everyone know where I'm coming from ...


4:33 p.m. ET: I know a lot of people like to read more into the Tiger-Phil rivalry than is really there, but I don't think they care too much about each other's scores.

(Read that paragraph correctly: I didn't say they don't care for each other.)

That said, I can't imagine Woods would be too pleased knowing he's currently 11 shots behind Mickelson.

That's right -- Phil followed yesterday's 65 with a 66 and is now the leader by 2 at 13-under for the tourney.


4:26 p.m. ET: After switching clubs -- I'm guessing from 9-iron to wedge with a wind at his back -- Woods knocks his approach past the hole on 14 and reacts with a little two-footed bunny-hop deal to show his frustration.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods Fan
Jason Sobel/ESPN.comThis fan at Doral clearly shows his affection for Tiger Woods, and what kind of an aficionado he is of the top-ranked golfer's statistics.

And why not? Woods' ball hit short of the hole but never checked up, instead releasing to the back of the green, 32 feet away.

If there's one thing we've seen with his game in his first four rounds of the season that doesn't exude the Tiger of old, it's that his distance control seems to be off. This is a guy who may not hit it right at the stick every time, but if he's got 156 yards to the hole, he hits it 156 and winds up pin-high. That hasn't been happening so far in his return.

4:20 p.m. ET: I've written this before, but when Tiger Woods hits the ball, it just sounds different from any other player.

Seated about 20 yards in front of Woods, inside the gallery ropes on the right side of No. 14, I just heard Woods' 3-wood drive sizzle as it soared past my head. Neither Karlsson nor Weir had a similar sound with their drives.

4:16 p.m. ET: Woods has used the same Scotty Cameron putter for his entire career, but that doesn't mean he's not interested in what other guys are using.

Standing next to Robert Karlsson while watching Mike Weir clean up his par, Woods grabbed his playing partner's putter and took a few strokes with it in the air.

4:13 p.m. ET: Tiger nearly just pulled a Phil.

Just off the back of the green on 13, his chip barely missed rolling into the hole. That's a par for TW to remain at 2-under.


4:07 p.m. ET: After defeating Brendan Jones in the opening round of the Match Play, Woods spoke of how he was worried about stiffening up during a 20-minute wait on the 15th tee.

Well, he just had a similar wait here at the par-3 13th, but Woods didn't spend much time stretching. After the porta-potty, he simply sat behind the tee box chatting up playing partners Mike Weir and Robert Karlsson.


4:02 p.m. ET: Already informed you of Tiger's relative struggles on the par-5 holes. How much is that hurting him? Well, let's take a look in comparison with Rory McIlroy.

They've each now played all four par-5s twice. Woods is 3-under on these holes; Rory is 8-under.

On the par-4s and 3s combined, McIlroy is only three shots clear of Woods, but his proficiency on the par-5s has him at 10-under for the tournament, right in contention.


3:55 p.m. ET: It must be great being Tiger Woods ... most of the time.

And then there are times like right now, when TW is waiting for Robert Karlsson to finish up in the porta-potty near the 13th tee and he's got fans cheering for him.

At least he's got a sense of humor about it. After emerging from the porta-potty, he was asked for his ball -- er, golf ball -- from some fans.

"Can't do it," he said with a laugh. "This is my birdie ball."

It's true. Woods just made birdie with it on 12 to move to 2-under.


3:53 p.m. ET: Oops, he did it again.

Phil Mickelson just chipped in for the fourth time this tournament, making birdie at No. 7 to move to 12-under and into a share of the lead.

Anybody wanna buy an instructional video?


3:49 p.m. ET: E-mail from Angela in Parts Unknown:

Tiger looked good at Match Play the first day and in the CA Championship, he just doesn't seem to have his rhythm back. What does he need to do or work on to be prepared for the Masters. I think right now he is not mentally ready.

Nah, I'm not buying it. When I sat down with Tiger back in October, he told me that staying mentally sharp during an absence is the easy part; it's getting back physically that took time.

Could that have just been a line? Or maybe he didn't yet know the repercussions of such a layoff at that point? Yes and yes. But I still don't think that mental focus just disappears.

I'm more inclined to blame his relatively poor play on what he termed "loose" irons during the Match Play and a putting stroke that hasn't looked anywhere near as sharp as the one he owned while winning last year's U.S. Open.


3:44 p.m. ET: Heard on the course: "Man, if Tiger doesn't make a few birdies, he's gonna miss the cut!"

Once again, folks -- there is no cut at this event. Everyone is assured of 72 holes.


3:29 p.m. ET: E-mail from Ryan in Charlotte, N.C.:

Have you been able to see any of Tiger's play today?

Not on the course, but your wish is my command. I'm about to head out to catch him on No. 12 or so and see what's going on with his game ...


3:17 p.m. ET: E-mail from Steve in Cincinnati:

Put a fork in Tiger. He's done. He has done nothing and the field is running away from him.

I'm not ready to bury his chances just yet, but they're fading by the minute. For a guy who usually eats par-5s for breakfast, he's not doing too much on them this week in comparison with the field. He was 2-under yesterday, but after making a birdie on No. 1 today, he posted a par on No. 8 and just three-putted the 10th for a bogey. He's now at 1-under for the tourney -- 11 shots behind leader Jeev Milkha Singh.

As one of my colleagues just brought up, if there was a cut here, TW might be in trouble. The closest event, in terms of field size, with a cut is the Masters, at which the top 44 and ties plus anyone within 10 shots of the lead reaches the weekend. Well, right now Woods is T-47 and 11 shots back. If this was Augusta National, he may be trunk-slamming and heading down Magnolia Lane in a few hours.


3:12 p.m. ET: Two-Tone strikes back.

No, Henrik Stenson didn't remove any clothing today -- well, not that I know of -- but he did remove himself even further from the leaderboard. After an opening-round 69, Stenson was 2-over for his first nine holes today before making his initial birdie at No. 10.

There is good news, though. (Well, sort of. Depends on how you look at it, I guess.) I can confirm that video exists of Stenson's exploits on the third hole yesterday -- saw it with my very own eyes on Sky Sports, the Euro TV network. If I can find a link, I'll pass it along.


3:07 p.m. ET: Jim Furyk is currently at 8-under, just three shots behind the leaders. But he may not think he's going to win. Ever.

I mean, why else would he sell his place in Maui, just down the street from the champions-only season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship?

I kid about his perceived lack of confidence, but the story is true. The Wall Street Journal reported today that Furyk's five-bedroom single-level house, which was completed in 2005 and measures 6,400 square feet, is now on the market.

Asking price: $7.5 million. Or roughly 24 months salary for Furyk.

In the last two years, he has earned $7,609,760 on the PGA Tour.


3:02 p.m. ET: I haven't talked much about Jeev Milkha Singh today, but he's just cruising along with four birdies, seven pars and no bogeys through 11 holes so far. He's tied with Phil Mickelson and Prayad Marksaeng at 11-under right now.

Dude is like India's version of Fred Funk; he doesn't miss the fairway -- 8 of 9 so far today.

Could be a big year for the country. First "Slumdog Millionaire" wins Best Picture ... next Jeev Milkha wins a big event in the U.S.?

It could happen.


2:46 p.m. ET: E-mail from Michael in Parts Unknown:

Don't you feel scores are way too low for what is supposed to be somewhat of a "prestigious" event (WGC and all)? Is this course just that defenseless if you don't have real strong winds? Even when there was more rough last year, 17-under won. The Honda provides a tougher test.

Two things: First, don't think of the scoring in relation to par. If you want to do that, let's call the first and 10th holes each par-4s and then everybody will be eight strokes closer in relation to par at the end of the weekend.

Second, just because this is a prestigious event doesn't mean that the scores have to look like a U.S. Open leaderboard. It's OK to have a strong event in which birdies are possibilities rather than rarities. I wouldn't want it for every single big-time tourney, but once in a while, I'm fine with it.


2:41 p.m. ET: The good news for Adam Scott? He just birdied the third hole and is now 2-under for his last three.

The bad news? On a course where everybody is going low, he played the back nine -- his front side for the day -- in 6-over 42. That's two doubles, two bogeys and five pars.

And the numbers are just as bad as the score: He hit 1 of 7 fairways, 4 of 9 greens in regulation and needed a total of 16 putts (with no three-putts).


2:31 p.m. ET: Just spoke with a colleague who watched Prayad Marksaeng for holes 7 through 9. His assessment: "I didn't see him hit one good shot."

Marksaeng didn't score terribly for those three holes -- he went par-par-bogey -- but he did weather the storm.

And after starting the back nine birdie-bogey-par, he just sank a birdie putt on No. 13. He and Phil Mickelson are now at 11-under, one shot clear of Jeev Milkha Singh.


2:26 p.m. ET: Speaking of Stenson (again), here's another clue as to why he was forced to remove all his clothes yesterday.

Stenson apparently has much of his money invested in Stanford Financial and it's currently all frozen.

In that situation, there may not be much extra cash lying around for new pants and a dry-cleaning bill.

Nice to know he can still afford clean underwear, at least.


2:22 p.m. ET: E-mail from CJ in St. Paul, Minn.:

What would it take for Tiger to strip down to his boxers? I'm assuming it would have to be a very important shot at a major... How intimidated would the rest of the field be by the famed Tiger physique? Do you think he'd actually do it if his ball was in the mud, or would he just deal with muddy clothes? Does Nike have a wardrobe person that follows him around with extra clothes just in case?

I don't think it happens. Ever.

Really, TW's ball could be caked in mud or in a water hazard, he's just not doing the Stenson Streak.

Although as one e-mailer wrote to me earlier, apparently Nike does make undergarments -- some of which have Tiger's face adorned on them. Can't confirm that right now, but if it's true then perhaps it's just another marketing opportunity.


2:06 p.m. ET: I didn't see Rory McIlroy's approach into the difficult 18th hole -- he was in the group before Mickelson -- but observers told me it was a thing of beauty, landing about 3 feet from the hole.

"Boy Wonder" is now 8-under and two off the lead. Every single player who's been asked about this 19-year-old kid from Northern Ireland -- from Ernie Els to Geoff Ogilvy to Ian Poulter -- says the same thing: He's the real deal.

Don't be surprised if McIlroy leaps as high as No. 2 on the OWGR later this year.


2:03 p.m. ET: For much of last year, every time I saw Kenny Perry go low, I watched with skepticism. It's not that I didn't think he was a good player; I just didn't think he was THAT good.

Well, in recent months I've come around and changed my tune. Dude can flat play -- doesn't matter that he's two years away from the Champions Tour.

We got another example of that today, as he went out in 5-under 31 to get his name on the leaderboard.


1:58 p.m. ET: After barely missing the 18th green to the right, Phil Mickelson chips to about a foot and, yes, he makes the putt.

That's a solid 3-under 33 on the first nine holes for Phil. He's one shot behind Prayad Marksaeng, who is now at 11-under.


1:54 p.m. ET: Either somebody is spitting on me from the bleachers surrounding the 18th green or it's starting to rain.

Might be a little of both.

A couple of dark clouds above us right now, but it doesn't look like anything that's going to cause too much concern, with blue sky in every direction but directly overhead.


1:49 p.m. ET: Here comes Tiger ...

Birdie-par-par-birdie start puts him at 3-under for the tournament.

There's another reason Doral may "fit his eye" more than usual this week. Because of the recent temps here in Florida, the rough is only 2 inches -- less than twice what it was a year ago.

I'm standing in the rough right now and can tell you there's nothing penalizing about it.

For a guy whose biggest struggle is often his driving accuracy, he can grip it and rip it this week.

Or as Phil would say ... screw it.


1:42 p.m. ET: Looking like he was trying to hit a draw off the 18th tee to avoid the water hazard on the left, Mickelson produced an absolute knuckler, but got the desired result.

It wasn't pretty, but Mickelson should have a decent look into the green.


1:34 p.m. ET: I really didn't want to open up this can of worms, but as Phil might say, "Screw it."

As we head toward Happy Hour on a Friday afternoon, let's get a little giggly with our first haiku of the week, courtesy of Dan in Boston:

Lefty says, "Screw it.
I don't need no stinking Pelz.
Buy my DVD."

After a markdown (different from a Marksaeng) on price after the last hole, the DVD is now back to its full listing as Mickelson holes the 15-footer for birdie.

He's now tied (Thai'd) with Marksaeng at 10-under. And like I said earlier, win or lose, the dude is exciting to watch.


1:31 p.m. ET: Another tester for Mickelson's suddenly balky putter.

He just knocked a wedge to about 15 feet on No. 17. Looks like an uphill putt without much break. Very makeable.


1:26 p.m. ET: Since this is a WORLD Golf Championship event -- and even though all the regular-season WGCs are held in the U.S. -- there's a nice little perk here for some of the international players.

Well, their caddies, at least.

Each tee box is marked not only in yards but meters, as well. Obviously, most of these guys are pretty adept at the conversion rate, but it's just another very subtle thing that separates WGCs from other PGA Tour events.


1:23 p.m. ET: Uhh ... Blog Jinx.

OK, so maybe Mickelson's birdie putt was from 2 feet and not 1 foot. Still, it wasn't a tough one ... but he missed it.

Wow.

Does anyone out here have a DVD player? I think Phil needs to watch a little short game instruction video.


1:21 p.m. ET: E-mail from David in Pittsburgh:

If Marksaeng wins, would this be the first PGA Tour event to ever end with a Thai?

David followed that question by saying, "You know you want to post this."

Actually, I didn't. But my hands were Thai'd.

(Ouch. Sorry. That one actually hurt to write.)


1:18 p.m. ET: Why does Phil Mickelson insist on going for the green at the short par-4 16th? Because his short game is good enough to make up for it if the strategy doesn't work.

Mickelson knocked his tee shot into the front left bunker, but pitched to within a foot of the hole and will soon tap in for a third-straight birdie to move to 10-under and presumably (there's no leaderboard on this hole) take a share of the lead.


1:16 p.m. ET: Speaking of Woods on the first hole, here are his updated career numbers there:

Times played: 26
Eagles/Birdies: 23
Pars: 3
Score in relation to par: -27
Birdie or better percentage: 88.5


1:13 p.m. ET: E-mail from Greg in Parts Unknown:

Tiger goes ahead and plants his drive 1 yard further (348 yds) than Lefty's on No. 1 yesterday. You know he probably did that on purpose.

Sure he did.

That extra yard obviously made all the difference. Whereas Mickelson made par yesterday, Woods just posted a birdie.


1:11 p.m. ET: Phil's going for it on the short par-4 16th. How do I know? His caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, just asked everyone in the left side of the gallery framing the tee box to "move back 10-15 feet."

Impossible to see where Mickelson's tee shot just wound up, but he looks happy with his swing, once again taking it well left over the palm trees and water hazard.


1:08 p.m. ET: Phil Mickelson cleans up his second-straight birdie. He's now at 9-under, tied for second place with Jeev Milkha Singh, one shot behind leader Prayad Marksaeng.

I haven't seen Phil check a leaderboard recently, but if he does here's guessing those names won't have him too worried (whether he admits it or not).


1:05 p.m. ET: Andres Romero rolls in about a 30-footer for birdie on 15.

And immediately the crowd starts yelling his nickname, "Pigu," for which the English translation is ... nothing.

Really, he's been asked about it before and said it's just a name, but doesn't mean anything.


1:02 p.m. ET: An absolute dart from Mickelson on the par-3 15th. From the tee box, it looks like it's inside of 4 feet or so.

With his "screw it" stance on hitting driver and his renewed dedication to the short game thanks to the upcoming instructional video, the last remaining piece to the puzzle might be his iron play.

If he can keep hitting 'em like this, he'll be right in the thick of things come Sunday afternoon.


12:57 p.m. ET: Take that, Blog Jinx.

Mickelson calmly knocks in his birdie attempt on 14 -- he's back to 8-under.


12:55 p.m. ET: My pick to win this week is Andres Romero, who is also in this Mickelson group.

Currently at 5-under, he hit a squirrely drive with his 3-wood, but more than made up for it by knocking one from 190 yards or so to about 4 feet.


12:48 p.m. ET: Screw it.

Grip it and rip it.

Tee it high and let it fly.

Whatever motto Phil Mickelson chooses, it's working.

With me sitting directly behind him at 14, he took a huge swing with the driver and absolutely crushed one to about 85 yards in on the wind-aided 460-yard hole.


12:43 p.m. ET: The wind is definitely picking up out here on the course. Sitting on the 14th tee box, the empty folding chair next to me just blew over.

But as I mentioned yesterday, this will have less of an effect at this event than most others. Unlike tourneys with bigger fields, there is no morning and afternoon wave here; the tee times are more compacted.


12:37 p.m. ET: E-mail from Rick in Chicago:

Get a jump on the other media guys ... here is link to ask your questions to Prayad Marksaeng: http://translation.babylon.com/English/to-Thai and his response to you: http://www.thai2english.com/

I'll need your help on this one, folks. At 11-under, Marksaeng is gonna be a major story heading into the weekend. Let's find some good questions for him in Thai.


12:31 p.m. ET: Blog Jinx!

I mean, seriously, that might be the epitome of one right there. Just as I find Phil ... he blows one OB. He might want to have me removed from the premises before he starts making septies all over the place.

Speaking with Phil's PR guy a minute ago, he just told me, "I've been around him for a long time, but I've never seen anything like yesterday's round."

Say what you will about Mickelson, but he is NEVER not exciting to watch.


12:27 p.m. ET: Just caught up to the Mickelson group (he's playing with Andres Romero and Martin Kaymer) on the 603-yard, par-5 12th hole.

Lefty took a healthy cut from just off the right side of the fairway, but still couldn't get it there, leaving his ball in the front bunker with a front pin position.

No problem.

Mickelson pitches to within a foot and taps in. Unfortunately for Lefty it was for bogey and not birdie after he hit one OB.


12:16 p.m. ET: Walking past the back of the driving range on my way to No. 12 and well, gotta be careful here.

With only a 6-foot fence to the left of the range and no net in back, players who are hitting a dead pull can plunk a spectator while those muscling up can find the small pond out beyond the flags.


12:10 p.m. ET: Phil Mickelson birdied his first hole -- No. 10 on the course -- to move to 8-under.

Screw it.

I'm on the course, in search of PhillyMick ...


12:01 p.m. ET: I've always thought pros should practice like they play. For example, instead of hitting driver for 20 minutes, why not hit driver, then 7-iron, then hit a short wedge shot in order to replicate playing conditions on the course?

It's a concept one NFL team developed this past year (almost positive it was the Tennessee Titans), as they held practices like they would play in games -- a few minutes on the field, then a few off.

I mention this now while watching Camilo Villegas on the practice green. He's reading putts and rolling 'em, but isn't going into his patented Spiderman, lotus-position thing beforehand.

Granted, he may look a bit nuts doing that on the practice green, but why not warm up the way you're gonna play in the round?


11:57 a.m. ET: For the dozens of you who have pointed out that Phil is not the only player to hit wedge into a par-5 ... I knew that.

Tiger Woods did the same thing at Nos. 13 and 15 during the 1997 Masters. Just a quick oversight on my part. And yes, I'm sure guys like Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes have done it, too -- be it under much less of a spotlight.


11:53 a.m. ET: Maybe I'm imagining things, but it definitely feels a bit gustier here than yesterday, when there was more of a constant, consistent breeze. Right now it will be calm for 30 seconds, then suddenly blow 15 mph or so.

Changing winds are obviously more difficult for players to deal with than constant ones.


11:46 a.m. ET: OK, time to head out on the course. Like yesterday, expect posts to be a little shorter, but I'll get ya some more first-hand accounts of the action. Keep the e-mail coming ...


11:33 a.m. ET: E-mail from Timothy in Parts Unknown:

How about Paddy winning the week before St. Patty's Day? Could that luck o' the Irish push him to victory? And if so, will he break out in a Riverdance on the 18th?

Guinness for everybody! Actually, Harrington's drink of choice is John Smith's Smooth Bitter.

Harrington is now at 8-under after making eagle on his first hole -- the 10th on the course.

Can't believe he'll do a river dance, but yeah, right before St. Patty's Day that would be a special victory for him. And I guarantee you won't see one "St. Paddy's Day!" headline anywhere. Not one. No way.


11:24 a.m. ET: Speaking of the first hole ... it's a par-5 in name only. Playing 529 yards, it's really a par-4 -- especially when playing downwind, as it was yesterday.

In Round 1, it played as the easiest hole on the course with a scoring average of 4.175. There were five eagles, 57 birdies, 17 pars and just one bogey. The longest drive of the day came from Phil Mickelson, who belted one 347 yards and then did something I have honestly never heard of in a PGA Tour event: He hit a wedge into the green for his second shot on a par-5.

Of course, hitting wedge for your second shot doesn't necessarily guarantee success. Lefty missed his eagle putt then failed to clean up a shorty for birdie, making one of those 17 pars for the day.


11:21 a.m. ET: After his opening-round of 7-under 65 which gave him a share of the lead, Prayad Marksaeng didn't talk to the media. He's not a jerk; it's just that he doesn't speak English and his translator wasn't around.

(And believe it or not, none of us golf reporting hacks are fluent in Thai.)

That said, I've heard through the grapevine that he has an incredible story that consists of him growing up with about 10 brothers and sisters, sleeping on the floor of their small house and working his way into the golf profession.

We'll get into more of this throughout the day, because he is now your sole leader. With an eagle at No. 1, Marksaeng jumps to 9-under -- two shots clear of anyone else.


11:05 a.m. ET: Before getting to the new Henrik Stenson nicknames, Aaron on Daufuskie Island makes a very good point:

Don't worry about guys playing in their boxers or briefs until they can figure out a way to get all of their sponsors worked across the cheeks. Fortunately for us viewers, the guys who present the largest area for placing sponsor names are the guys least likely to want to strut their stuff. (At least, I hope that is the case.)

Uh-oh. I think the Titleist R&D guys just got an idea to start working on a new line of underwear -- with plenty of brand-name recognition, of course.

OK, onto the nicknames. First, the runners-up ...

From Donald in Parts Unknown:

[+] EnlargeHenrik Stenson
Kyle Auclair/Getty ImagesHenrik Stenson had a rough time of it on the third hole at Doral on Thursday.

Henrik Stainless

From Jason in Cleveland:

Hanes-rik Stenson

From Russ in Parts Unknown:

Heiny-rick Stenson

From Cary in Russell, Pa.:

The Streakin' Swede

From Tom in Parts Unknown:

Victoria's Nightmare

From Ray in San Clemente, Calif.:

O.B. Stake

From Paul in Harrisonburg, Va.:

TW (For Tighty Whities, not Tiger Woods)

And the winner is ... Patt in Sidney, British Columbia:

TwoTone

There you go: Good ol' Henrik "TwoTone" Stenson may need to hit the tanning salon au natural if he's ever going to shed his clothes -- and this nickname -- again.


11:00 a.m. ET: Missed my SportsNation chat? Check out the wrap up here.


10:15 a.m. ET: This is probably the place where I should break down Jeev Milkha Singh's stellar driving accuracy or Prayad Marksaeng's buttery putting stroke ... but, nah -- let's talk about the guy in his underwear some more.

Seriously, though, there's a rule on the PGA Tour that states all players must adhere to a dress code at all times -- one that very clearly includes wearing pants. But is it OK to remove those pants for one shot? And if it's OK for one shot, is it OK for two? And if it is, isn't that setting some precedent for all shots at all times? Hell, can't Henrik Stenson simply show up at the first tee in his underwear today? How far can this go?

Just about every round, it seems there's at least one player removing his socks and shoes in an effort to hit a shot from the water's edge. I can't imagine these players get fined for such instances. (Of course, the PGA Tour doesn't release information about fines and/or suspensions -- an archaic practice which deserves criticism any time I can dish it out.)

Now, if Stenson gets fined then a line has been drawn; no shoes is fine, no pants is fine-able. If he doesn't, well, all of a sudden it could turn into PGA Tour Guys Gone Wild, with players stripping down for every shot, knowing there would be no repercussions. I'll try to get an official answer from the tour today.

After yesterday's overwhelming response to the Doral naming assignment, I've got some more homework for you. We can't let Henrik get away with this whole incident without earning a new nickname. What should we call him?

Shoot me an e-mail at the address above; I'll post the best ones after the SportsNation chat. And like Stenson's shirt, pants, shoes and hat, let's keep it clean.


10:00 a.m. ET: Let's kick off Round 2 of the WGC-CA Championship blog from here at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa with some leftover news and notes from yesterday as we prepare for the next 18 holes ...

• I received a call from one of Phil Mickelson's people on Wednesday afternoon. He wanted to know if I had received my advanced copy of Lefty's new short game instructional video. Told him I got it, but hadn't watched yet. And I said that -- maybe -- if Phil showed some short game prowess here, I could give it a mention in the blog.

Mission accomplished.

Call it synergistic marketing or just an awfully beneficial coincidence, but in the first round Mickelson needed only 20 putts and chipped in three times to grab a share of the lead.

But it wasn't just his short game that was working; Mickelson was pounding it off the tee, too.

"After hitting some poor drives, I said, 'Screw it, let's go. Let's hit it,'" he said. "I teed it up high and ripped at it, and I hit the longest, straightest drives I've hit, and that's what I've been doing. I've just been following that motto, and it's been great."

There you go, folks. Phil's new motto: "Screw it."

• What is the true meaning of life? Which religion is the best one? Henrik Stenson: Boxers or briefs?

At least one of those eternal questions was answered on Thursday, as Stenson stripped down to his boxers in order to hit a shot from the mud on the third hole.

"Obviously, playing in Florida I didn't have any rain gear in the bag so that option went out of the window and I felt like if I could hack it out, I could secure a 5 and that is what I ended up doing in the end," he said. "Because of the mud, I couldn't really afford to play in any of my clothes as they would have been a real mess down the last six or so holes so I had no option -- I was only wearing two things when I hit the shot, my jocks and my golf glove; that is the only thing that will appear in the picture aside from the golf club -- just the way God created me! Shirt, trousers, socks, shoes, hat -- the lot was off!"

He'll never hear the end of it. Ian Baker-Finch stripped to his skivvies years ago at Colonial and it's still talked about. In fact, last week while pondering a similar shot, Robert Allenby said, "I was going to take my pants off but I thought that Ian Baker-Finch, that scene had been shown so many times, and I know I've got better legs than him."

Big ups to Kyle Auclair, the only photographer on the scene, about whom Stenson said afterward, "I believe a photographer might have got some good shots of it -- he might make some money!"

Of course, he's got to be careful where he points that camera. As Stenson said, "You never know, after this I might have a new endorsement with PlayGirl or something like that!"

• I've been told the "Streak for the Cash" guy thinks Tiger Woods is going low today. Here is the prop bet for the game:

WGC-CA Championship (Doral Blue Monster -- Miami, Fla.): TIGER WOODS Second-Round Score?
--67 or lower
--68 or higher

I'm going with ... lower. I just think TW turns it up a little today and finally gets some of those putts to drop. If you listened to him after the round, you could tell he feels good about his game and is confident right now. Considering the low scoring around here, I think he's got a 66 in him today.

• I was at dinner with a few fellow golf writers last night when the conversation turned to Padraig Harrington, who one of my colleagues criticized for "not doing much" since winning the British Open and PGA Championship. My reaction:

"What are we supposed to expect from these guys? We tend to criticize those who don't play well at majors but win elsewhere; now we're going to knock a guy for only winning majors? I'm not going down that road."

After making a late decision to enter this tourney, Harrington shot an opening-round 6-under 66 to vault up the leaderboard.

• When I spoke with Ian Poulter the other day, much of our conversation revolved around his taste for fashion and the new Ian Poulter Design product line.

I asked him if potential consumers needed to sign some sort of "cool waiver" to wear his clothes. "No," he said with a laugh. "They're for everyone."

Knowing I couldn't be turned down for approval, I picked up some Poulter duds at the Doral pro shop and must say I look like a dead ringer for the guy right now -- spiky hair notwithstanding.

• I can safely report that the Doral grill room was still buzzing with excitement into the early morning hours over the Syracuse/UConn six-overtime basketball game. Last call didn't occur until at least three minutes after the final horn sounded.

Keep checking back here throughout the day. I'll be chatting in SportsNation at 10:30, then posting minute-by-minute updates here in the blog starting at 11 a.m. Any questions, comments, suggestions or threats? As always, send 'em to the e-mail address above ...

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.