Mickelson and Woods kindle sparks of rivalry
Friday 18 August 2006
With one huge exception, this first day of the US PGA Championship was like a US Open rerun, with a healthy quota of Britons figuring high up on a leader board packed with dramatic potential. The difference is, of course, Tiger Woods. Unlike Winged Foot, he will not be missing the cut here.
That much was obvious by yesterday's score of 69. It matched his playing partner Phil Mickelson as their head-to-head sparkled without ever really igniting. Saying that, they were well within touch of the six-under clubhouse lead of Lucas Glover and their presence is ominous. Could this be the major when they at last slug it out in the duel that will define their rivalry?
It was the question all Medinah was asking, although not perhaps Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. They were too caught up in their own challenges as they tried desperately, and in the main tremendously, to redress that strange statistic that says no European has lifted the Wanamaker Trophy for 76 years. For Lee Westwood, in particular, this day was about so much more than golf.
While his own 69 was marred somewhat by a bogey down the last interestingly, Donald had done the same thing on the same hole 10 minutes earlier in his 68 the fact that he was in any sort of contention was remarkable in itself.
If he was not a high-class sportsman, Westwood would have been with his wife, Laurae, at the funeral of Heather Clarke, the wife of his great friend Darren. Instead, after a remembrance ceremony at 6.30am led by the prayers of the American Ryder Cup captain, Tom Lehman he was thrown deep into the cauldron of competition and forced to wrap himself in all the self-absorption it requires. His emotions were going all over the place, but admirably his ball did not. How? "I had a job to do and just went out and did it," he said, the pain in his eyes belying that it had in any way been that simple. This was a feat of focus that will not have escaped Ian Woosnam.
In fact, the European Ryder Cup captain will have been pleased by a number of factors of yesterday's morning session, not least that the home flop of Hoylake seems to be now but a memory. As it is believed that he has already promised Clarke a K Club wild card, the nightmare scenario would be for Luke Donald to fall out of the automatic qualifying positions and so leave Westwood stranded. The 28-year-old showed he is not about to let that happen with a round lit up by a holed bunker shot on the 17th that he had the cheek to call "reasonably easy. I am trying to have a solid week to sort it all out," Donald added.
Glover happens to be on his own Ryder mission as he tries to leap into the top 10 by Sunday night's deadline. As he is right on the fringes, this was some useful beginning for the young South Carolinan, eight birdies outweighing two bogeys in his 65.
In truth, conditions could not have been much more benign for the early brigade. Not only was the breeze almost non-existent, but so too, in large sections of the course, were the fans. That had nothing to do with Chicago's indifference to the game, but all to do with the participants competing in Group 23. Put Woods and Mickelson together and the galleries will follow. "All" the galleries, that is.
Indeed, listening to the Woods supporters narrowly outdo those of Mickelson on the "You-da-manometer", it was impossible not to feel for Geoff Ogilvy, the "other" reigning major champion in the three-ball. In the event the Australian fared rather spectacularly in emulating the superpowers' 69 and surviving the distraction of a tussle which intriguingly swung both ways.
Mickelson took an early three-stroke lead after a birdie-birdie start; by the 12th Woods had hit back to turn the deficit into a one-shot advantage; and then the former was denied the final bragging rights only when his ball popped out at the last.
In between, there were enough glimpses of magic to promise something special this weekend. "We both played OK but had the chance to go lower," said Mickelson. Ogilvy knew it, the other players knew it, golf knew it. And everybody held their breath.
Scores from Medinah
US unless stated
Early First Round
C Riley, L Glover
L Donald (GB)
J J Henry
R Allenby (Aus)
L Westwood (GB)
G Ogilvy (Aus)
K Ferrie (GB)
M A Jimenez (Sp)
T Clark (SA)
R Goosen (SA)
M Campbell (NZ)
A Baddeley (Aus)
P Lonard (Aus)
A Romero (Arg), J Kane, D Toms, C Campbell, V Taylor, C DiMarco, Z Johnson, R Pampling (Aus), R Moore, D Yrene
M Small, S Flesch, A Hansen (Den), C Schwartzel (SA), M Weir (Can), J M Olazabal (Sp), B Curtis, S Verplank, S Schneiter, B Crane
H Tanihara (Japan), T Purdy, P Perez, D Duval, H Slocum, T Immelman (SA), K J Choi (S Kor)
B Estes, D Wilson, J Sindelar, S K Ho (S Kor), G Owen (GB), S Khan
R Beem, G McDowell (GB), P Harrington (Irl), G Fernandez-Castano (Sp), J Senden (Aus), C Villegas (Col), B Dredge (GB)
B Wetterich, J Edfors (Swe)
T Pernice, M Calcavecchia, T Hamilton, T Weinhart
J Aber, S Arnold
M Brown, T Bjorn (Den), N Dougherty (GB)
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