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9:36PM

Newsday: Mickelson just can't find a groove

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday


CHASKA, Minn. -- Phil Mickelson is caught between the sublime and the ridiculous, real life and real golf, dealing with missed putts and dealing with a wife and mother both battling breast cancer.

The good news is both women -- Amy, Phil's wife, and Mary, his mom -- appear to have made enough progress where Mickelson can say, "We're past the toughest part now, so I feel better.''

But he points out that flaws in his game cannot be easily dismissed and that though perspective is important, so is the golf he plays.

Mickelson's traumatic summer is not yet done. He shot 4-over-par 76 Saturday in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National, his third straight over-par round, and is far back of the leaders with a 54-hole score of 8-over 224. He has one more round to play before a week off.

He did so well at Bethpage in the U.S. Open two months ago, better than anyone might have guessed while Amy was preparing for treatment back in California. Mickelson tied for second, two shots behind Lucas Glover. His courage was deemed the equal of his play, and his appearance at Bethpage was hugely popular.

He skipped the British Open, then believing his wife and mother were in good enough condition, returned to his golf. Mickelson played the Bridgestone last week and came to the PGA with hopes, if not direction.

"My expectations,'' Mickelson insisted, "are high. I'm disappointed with my performance this week. Regardless of what's going on, or off, the course, I still have high expectations.''

Surely the agony of the past couple of months has affected him. In a sport that requires the utmost concentration, at times his thoughts must wander.

Even Tiger Woods missed the U.S. Open cut in 2006 when he took a nine-week break because of the illness and subsequent death of his father.

"I think I practiced and prepared,'' Mickelson said when asked if it was difficult to compete. "But I just haven't performed well.''

It was putting that bedeviled Mickelson the first two days of the PGA. Saturday, his ball striking became a problem. He said he'll have a week to work on both phases of his game before the Barclays at Liberty National in New Jersey. "It's frustrating for me not to be in contention on the weekends of a major,'' Mickelson said. "That's the toughest thing. But also good motivation for me to work harder.''

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http://www.newsday.com/sports/golf/mickelson-just-can-t-find-a-groove-1.1372230
Copyright © 2009 Newsday. All rights reserved.
9:41AM

Newsday: Woods controls shots, takes control of the PGA

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday


CHASKA, Minn. -- The wind came up, dry and hot, rattling flagsticks in the cups, sending golf balls flying off their desired lines. But in this 91st PGA Championship out on the prairie land west of Minneapolis, they were hardly the winds of change.

The tournament still was in the possession of Tiger Woods, more than ever. What started as a one-shot lead with others still holding the thought they had a chance, ended up as a four-shot lead, and is there anyone extant who doesn't believe anyone but Tiger has a chance in this tournament?

Of the top dozen or so players on the leader board at the start of round two Friday, Woods was the only one to break par, shooting a 2-under-par 70 at Hazeltine National. His 36-hole total was 7-under 137, with Vijay Singh, U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover, Ross Fisher and defending champion Padraig Harrington all at 3-under 141.

"His game looked solid again today,'' Harrington said of Woods, one of his playing partners. "I think he's in good position because of the fact he's a good front-runner. He can pick and choose his shots, and he's not rushed into shots he doesn't have to hit. He's very good at that.''

He's more than very good. He's fantastic. When Tiger has the halfway lead, he has been unbeatable in majors, winning 8 of 8, and virtually unbeatable in tournaments overall, winning 32 of 38.

A victory in this would be Tiger's 15th major championship, his fifth PGA, although he refuses to think beyond Saturday's third round.

"I've got a long way to go,'' said Woods, who didn't finish first in any of the year's three previous majors. "But I'm pleased. The wind was up. It was pretty blustery. It was changing directions. It was affecting putts. All in all, it was a very difficult day, and you had to stay patient.''

While Tiger did just that, others stayed close. And then, wham. Harrington shot 38 on the back nine, with four bogeys, including one at 18. Fisher, briefly tied with Woods after 16, bogeyed the final two holes. Woods took control with birdies on 14, 15 and 16, so even a bogey at 18 didn't hurt very much.

"Today,'' Woods said of conditions, "was a day when if you looked at it -- I don't know how to explain it -- could have been worse than it is. Could have been better. I could have shot a couple over par, but I turned it into an under-par round.''

Harrington had a sense of humor. He hit a magnificent 3-wood shot from a bunker 301 yards onto the green of the 642-yard 15th for a birdie 4 but lost too many strokes en route.

Woods called it one of the best shots he had ever seen, "worth the price of admission."

"He did say to me actually he would have paid to have seen it," Harrington said. "So I asked him for 50 bucks."

Phil Mickelson shot a second 74 but made the cut on the number at 148, as did Fred Couples. Among those missing the cut was Sergio Garcia, still without his first major, who shot a choppy 78. Ernie Els made a strong move with a 68, tied for best round of the day with Fisher and Tim Clark

"I mean, yes, Tiger is the greatest golfer I think we've ever seen," said Fisher, who contended in the U.S. and British Opens. "But at the end of the day, he's just like me and you. He's just a human being. He just happens to be damn good at golf. So we've got to work really, really hard to try and compete with him and catch him."

But Woods has not lost a 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour in five years.

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http://www.newsday.com/sports/golf/woods-controls-shots-takes-control-of-the-pga-1.1371314
Copyright © 2009 Newsday. All rights reserved.
11:05AM

RealClearSports.com: Tiger Has Us Believing for Him, Anything Is Possible



By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


CHASKA, Minn. -- This is what greatness is, a young man with a swoosh on his shirt and purpose in his thoughts. A young man who has us believing that on a golf course anything is possible, because truth tell for him, anything is possible.

He's not even allowing for suspense this time. Not even needing to produce a comeback.
Tiger Woods went out Thursday and snatched the first-round lead in the PGA Championship, and in effect ended the competition after 18 holes, although there remain 54 left to play.

Woods, who usually starts slowly in a major, this time started quicker than anyone else. Woods, who usually is chasing -- and more often than not, overtaking -- this time is being chased.

He's gone through '09 without a victory in a major, even missing the cut in the British Open, but he's not going past Sunday, the PGA's final round, without one. Not the way he's performing.

You can rewrite the axiom. There is something else definite besides death and taxes: Tiger Woods with a lead in a major.

"I feel pretty comfortable if I'm playing well," said Woods. He's playing well, believe me. He's playing spectacularly. He's playing like Tiger Woods.

Tiger has five victories already this year. And he didn't even enter a tournament until February, inactive for eight months while recovering from the ACL surgery on his left knee in June 2008.

Not long ago, May, even June, impatient with his lack of progress, we were wondering what was wrong with Tiger, wondering if he'd make it back to where he was, towering over golf. We have our answers. Tiger again has his game.

He won two weeks ago at the Buick. He won last weekend, if in a controversial ending, at the Bridgestone Invitational. And almost certainly he'll win this weekend, adding a 15th major to a total, which at age 33 will put him only three behind the career-record 18 of Jack Nicklaus.

Bad weather is coming. That was the forecast. A big wind, a sweep across the prairie, across the rolling country that used to be farmland. Could it be any more forceful than Tiger Woods crushing a golf ball, crushing the opposition?

When Woods and the other two in his threesome, Padraig Harrington, the defending champ and a shot behind Tiger, and Rich Beem, were on the green of the par-five 606-yard second hole, a ball came bouncing toward their feet. It was hit by the Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, his second shot.

"He apologized," said Tiger. "Nothing to apologize for...to hit it that far is phenomenal. I used to be able to move the ball (like that). Not anymore. I just plod my way around, shoot 67."

Tiger, the guy who walks with his head down, who almost never acknowledges a congratulatory yell or a friendly wave, was having fun. The confidence is nearly palpable. He can toy with the opposition. He can jest with the media.

Whatever happens -- and the thought is something good will happen, as it usually does when Tiger is in full flight -- Woods has a new perspective. A year ago, he still was recovering.

"I was just trying to walk without a brace," he recalled. "I wasn't very good at it but trying to get a bit of flexion at the time. And walking in a pool and all those things. But I couldn't do much of anything."

He can do virtually anything he wants now. On Thursday he got around a course listed at a ridiculous 7,674 yards but in actuality probably set up 150 to 200 yards shorter, without a bogey.

"Yeah," he conceded, "I played really well. I hit a bunch of good shots, and this round could really have been low. I missed a bunch of putts."

No sympathy will be extended. Golfers always talk about what might have been. But for us there's no need. We reflect on what was. For Tiger that would be excellence, if not quite perfection.

He's not the only player on Tour, although sometimes the television ratings contradict that idea. There are other superb players: Harrington, who has three wins in majors; Phil Mickelson, although he struggled Thursday to a 2-over 74; Vijay Singh; Angel Cabrera; British Open champion Stewart Cink.

It's just that Tiger is in a league of his own. Years ago, when Jack Nicklaus set a ridiculously low scoring record at the Masters, the late Bobby Jones said of Jack, "He plays a game I'm not familiar with."

We're familiar with Tiger Woods' game. It's remarkable and dominant. But it's not good enough for Tiger. He may be the best, but he keeps trying to be better.



As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www1.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/08/14/tiger_has_us_believing_for_him_anything_is_possible_96449.html
© RealClearSports 2009
9:31AM

Newsday: Tiger stays in the groove and leads PGA by one

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday


The questions are different now for Tiger Woods. Nobody asks what's wrong. They only wonder if he's playing better than he ever has and the man -- The Man -- appears to be doing exactly that.

A winner the last two weeks, Tiger hasn't lost any momentum. He'll never lose his fixation for success.

"If you don't think you can win,'' Woods has said again and again, "then why enter?''

At the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National in the suburbs ofMinneapolis, Woods has once again entered the zone.

Woods didn't win any of the three previous majors this year, and missed the cut in last month's British Open, but that problem should be corrected shortly.

Tiger on Day 1 shot a 5-under par 67 and is a shot in front of one of his playing partners and the defending champion,Padraig Harrington, whom he overtook Sunday in the controversial ending of the Bridgestone Invitational.

Six golfers are tied for third at 3-under 69 -- Robert Allenby, Mathew Goggin, Hunter Mahan, Alvaro Quiros and two who like Woods and Harrington have won PGA Championships, Vijay Singh and David Toms.

U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover is at 71, British Open winner Stewart Cink 73, Phil Mickelson 74 and Masters winner Angel Cabrera 76.

The day belonged to Woods, and there's no reason to think the tournament also won't belong to Woods.


"It's always nice to get off to a quick start,'' understated Tiger, who hasn't done that of late, averaging 71.8 in the opening rounds of his last five majors, and winning only one, the 2008 U.S. Open.

"I feel pretty comfortable if I'm playing well,'' Woods said. "There are times I've put it together and had some pretty good margins of victory.''

His game Thursday -- five birdies, no bogeys, only 29 putts -- is evidence this may be one of those times.

"Tiger looks like he's playing well,'' agreed Harrington after his second straight round with Woods in two different tournaments. "If he's moving away, I want to make sure I'm moving with him.''

On Sunday, in the Bridgestone in Akron, Ohio, Harrington, going head-to-head with Woods, got flustered when the two were put on the clock because of slow play. He took a triple-bogey 8 on the 16th hole, and surrendered the lead and the tournament to Tiger.

That was Woods' 70th PGA Tour victory, third all-time to Sam Snead's 82 and Jack Nicklaus' 73. That was Woods' affirmation that somehow, some way he will win.

Unless, of course, he misses the cut as at Turnberry, which he has turned into an asset.

"I had that nice little rest there after the British,'' he quipped, "I have plenty of energy.''

Seven years ago Tiger finished second in the last PGA held at Hazeltine, a shot behind Rich Beem who yesterday, in the threesome with Woods and Harrington, had a 1-under 71. It was presumed Tiger would play well this time, if not as well as he played.

"It's something I've always believed in,'' Woods said. "The first round, just keep yourself around. You don't have to be eight under. Just got to keep plodding along.''

His plodding looks more like sprinting.

When Woods, Harrington and Beem were on the green of the 606-yard, par-5 11th hole, a ball bounced up. It was hit by Quiros, the Spaniard. His second shot, a driver off the deck.

"He apologized,'' Woods said. "Nothing to apologize for. I mean that's stupid long, isn't it? It's just absolutely phenomenal. I used to be able to move the ball like that. Not anymore. Just plod my way around and shoot 67.''

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http://www.newsday.com/sports/golf/tiger-stays-in-the-groove-and-leads-pga-by-one-1.1368897
Copyright © 2009 Newsday. All rights reserved.
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