On a leaderboard filled with the biggest stars in the game at Doral on Friday, the biggest star of all was at the very top.
Tiger Woods made eight birdies to shoot a 7-under-par 65 for a two-round total of 13-under 131 in the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship to grab a two-shot advantage over Graeme McDowell heading into Saturday’s third round on the TPC Blue Monster course at Trump Doral Golf Club and Resort.
Woods’ round included eight birdies, and with the nine he made on Thursday, it marked the first time he has totaled 17 birdies in the first two rounds of a tournament.
That’s a pretty impressive feat, except for the fact Woods himself wasn’t that much impressed. Asked how he felt about all those birdies, he simply said, “Left me with a two-shot lead.”
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Graeme McDowell, after a 67, is in second at 11-under, but lurking right behind him, in a tie for third with Steve Stricker and three shots behind, is Phil Mickelson. Mickelson shot a 67 Friday, as did Stricker.
Woods and Mickelson have a long history — of being rivals and of playing great golf against each other.
“Phil has been one of the probably three or four guys I’ve battled my entire career,” Woods said. “I’ve also gone toe-to-toe with Vijay [Singh] and Ernie [Els]. Since I came out on the [PGA] Tour, I’ve always enjoyed playing against Phil down the stretch, and you know, we’ve had our battles, which I’ve won and he’s won.”
He would be more than happy to be shaking hands with Tiger on the first tee before teeing off together Sunday. In fact, Mickelson was hoping that would be the case Saturday.
“I saw Tiger was playing well and I wanted to make a couple of birdies to get in the group with him Saturday,” Mickelson said. “I’ve been playing some of my best golf when we get paired together. I hope that on Saturday I play a good round and so does he, and we get a chance to be paired together in Sunday’s final round. He seems to somehow bring out my best.”
The possibility of a Mickelson-Woods showdown, particularly on Sunday, intrigues just about everybody — particularly the fans, and particularly the fans who remember the final round in 2005.
That year, Woods and Mickelson staged what was probably the greatest Doral tournament, with the outcome going down to the final day and Woods winning by shooting a 66 to Mickelson’s 69. After Woods made a 30-foot putt on 17, Mickelson came agonizingly close on the final hole when his chip shot was tracking toward the hole and then veered slightly right and lipped out by an inch.
Such drama would be welcome.
But there are numerous other top-name golfers chasing Woods, and they seem to have a unanimous opinion.
Even though the tournament is only at the halfway mark, they are all too aware a front-running Woods has been and always will be difficult to catch. And with the way Woods has played the first two rounds, he looks like the consummate front-runner.
McDowell expects what he calls a “unique experience” when he is paired with Woods on Saturday.
“You know, Tiger always brings his own interesting little circus inside the ropes,” McDowell said, referring to the crush of media and onlookers. “But like I say, I’ve been there many times, and you know, I always look forward to playing with him.
“The intimidating thing about playing with him is what goes on … and not him.”
Stricker is another of the solid names who lurks on the leaderboard at 10-under, and he is another player convinced that Woods with a lead is a dangerous proposition.
“You know, it’s going to be tough to catch him,” Stricker said. “We all know when he gets out front, he’s tough to catch and tough to beat. And it looks like all parts of his game are working.”
If Woods does win, Stricker might have nobody to blame except himself.
Well-known as one of the best putters in the game, Stricker offered Woods a few tips on the Doral putting green.
Woods listened and then started rolling in putts. His 23 putts in the first round Thursday and 26 on Friday will attest to that.
After joking about helping the enemy, Stricker said, “It’s good to see him putting well and playing well. It’s good for us, it’s good for the game, and it’s always good when he plays well. Unfortunately, we are chasing him.”
Woods said he implemented the suggestions from Stricker.
“Hey, we get off from time to time, and Stricks knows my stroke, and he saw a few things and, lo and behold, he made a few suggestions,” Woods said. “I’ve made some putts in the last few days.”
Then, with a big smile, Woods added, “He’s still not getting a percentage.”