Woods, Mickelson among four atop Doral board
MIAMI -- Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been leaving their footprints on the Blue Monster for two days, their paths only running parallel on the few holes at Doral where the front nine meets the back.
That won't be the case Saturday.
Mickelson birdied two of his last three holes Friday for a 6-under 66, while Woods settled for pars on his final four holes for a 5-under 67. It left them in a four-way tie for the lead with Scott Verplank and Camilo Villegas in the Ford Championship at Doral, and in the final pairing for the third round.
This isn't eyeball-to-eyeball golf as it was last year at Doral, even if there will be thousands of eyeballs on them. It isn't the final round, for one thing, and there are nine players within three shots of the lead.
"There are guys that are right there that are going to go out and make a lot of birdies, and it will be easy for them. They will have no pressure on them," Mickelson said. "It won't be ... anything like Sunday last year, where we're watching what each other is doing and trying to beat each other."
Not everyone cares about Woods and Mickelson in the final pairing, least of all Verplank, who joined them at 13-under 131 by playing a vastly different game. Verplank has moderate length off the tee, but it's usually in the fairway. He is crisp with his irons and sure with his putter.
But after he nearly holed a chip with his 5-wood from behind the 18th green that would have given him the outright lead, a television reporter mentioned that he had crashed the party.
"Why do you say that?" Verplank said, knowing full well what he meant.
"I lost in a playoff a couple of years ago," Verplank said, toying with the reporter. "I know my way around this course pretty good. I beg to differ. We'll see what happens."
It should be quite a show, with a large cast of characters.
Villegas, the big-hitting rookie in pink pants from Colombia, nearly made eagle on the par-5 eighth and joined the leaders with an 18-foot birdie putt on his final hole for a 66.
Two former PGA champions -- Davis Toms (66) and Rich Beem (67) -- were one shot behind, along with Mark Wilson (67). The group at 10-under 134 included Dean Wilson, Lucas Glover and Chad Campbell, who continues to strike his irons with authority and chipped in from 40 yards on the 17th.
Even so, the spotlight will shine on two of the biggest names in golf, especially after last year.
Woods and Mickelson provided great theater on the Blue Monster playing in the final group Sunday, when Woods rallied from two shots behind, Mickelson made birdies to regain a share of the lead, and Woods won with a 30-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.
Woods has said he enjoys such head-to-head battles, and Mickelson thinks he knows why.
"His record is a little better than mine," Mickelson said. "Of course he enjoys it."
Both started slowly in the pristine conditions of morning in Miami, with warm weather and barely a trace of a breeze. Woods reached the par-5 10th in two for a two-putt birdie, then wasted good birdie chances until a pitch from the rough short of the 16th green that stopped 6 feet away.
He birdied the 18th from the fringe, had an easy time for birdie with the par-5 first hole, then hit another exquisite chip from the rough on the short second hole that skipped to a stop 2 feet from the cup.
Woods was on his way to a comfortable margin until making his only bogey of the tournament, from the bunker left of the fourth green. He got the shot back with a wedge into 4 feet on the fifth, then made all pars.
Lefty also sputtered around with pars, then hit a 4-wood that he cut from left to right, holding it nicely as it plunked down 8 feet from the cup for eagle at the par-5 eighth. He finished strong with a pitch to 8 feet on the 16th and a wedge to 3 feet on the 17th, converting both for birdies.
Is this the encore everyone wanted?
"We've got a long way to go," Woods said. "You've got to continue making birdies and see what happens. Right now, we're tied for the lead. By the end of the day, we may not be."
But the lead stood, although Verplank sure did all he could to change that.
He birdied all the par 5s, three of them with a wedge in his hand. He hit an artful 6-iron that held against the afternoon breeze into 12 feet on the 15th for birdie. Laying back in the 17th fairway -- he was 55 yards behind rookie J.B. Holmes -- Verplank hit a three-quarter shot with an 8-iron in 4 feet for birdie.
"The way golf has changed, my game still works," Verplank said. "There's just barely enough skill left in the game where I can still play."
Toms feels the same way. He bemoans the fact that the 18th hole at the Blue Monster no longer strikes fear into big hitters because they can take it over the corner of the water, while Toms often is left with a middle iron at best into the green. The breeze was at his back Friday, and he hit 9-iron.
"They're going to play the golf course a different way than I'm going to play the golf course," Toms said. "I've got to be able to post something in front of them every day and see if it's good enough."
The cut was at 4-under, the lowest in the 45-year history at Doral. Among those missing the cut was the ABC Sports tandem of Paul Azinger (142) and Nick Faldo (150). ... Ernie Els shot a 65 and was at 7-under 138, slightly frustrated that it wasn't better. He had 13 birdie attempts inside 20 feet.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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