Doral Again Draws Top Players

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2005 Ford Championship at DoralMIAMI -- Phil Mickelson has a hard time forgetting the bitter end to his duel at Doral with Tiger Woods.
 
He was just off the 18th green, facing a 30-foot birdie chip to force a playoff at worst, and possibly win the best showdown of the year. The chip came off perfectly, ran true toward the cup and then broke sharply across the hole and spun out of the right side. Woods made his 6-foot par putt to win.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods reacts to his victory over Phil Mickelson in last year's Ford Championship.
Mickelson might be able to put that out of his mind if he wouldn't turn on the TV in his room at Doral.
 
'Unfortunately, they have the video running on one of the channels here at the hotel, so I get to see it every night,' he said Wednesday. 'Isn't that great?'
 
It was great theater, no doubt.
 
This generation of golf rarely produces such duels between the top players, with such a fine line between so much talent. The Ford Championship at Doral got one of the moments that are sheer magic, and it produced a buzz that even drowned out the parade of jetliners descending over the Blue Monster.
 
Woods reached the 12th green with a 3-wood that traveled 293 yards in the air to make eagle. Mickelson fired back with consecutive birdies to catch him. Each made 27 birdies in four days, and Woods got the last one, a 30-footer on the 17th that was the difference in his victory.
 
Rare as that was, odds are in Doral's favor of that happening again because of sheer numbers.
 
Nine of the top 10 players from the world ranking are gathered at the Blue Monster, a course that favors power hitters with lush fairways that don't have a lot of roll and rough that is thicker than last year, but still not terribly troublesome for players with a wedge in their hands.
 
Vijay Singh tied for third last year. Also in the field is Ernie Els, who joins Woods as the defending champion because the Big Easy won the last time he was at Doral in 2002. That was another showdown of sorts, although Els played in the group ahead of Woods. He saw an eight-shot lead dwindle to one before Els pulled away.
 
Anyone ready for an encore?
 
'I would love to get in that position again,' Mickelson said. 'I want to have a chance to win the tournament, obviously. It would be great if I had a chance to go head-to-head with Tiger. It would be great to have a chance to go head-to-head with anybody in the top 10.'
 
Woods gets those opportunities more often than most.
 
There was that incredible matchup with Els at Kapalua in 2000, as good a show this side of the majors. He has gone up against Singh in the final round at the '03 American Express (which he won) and the '04 Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston (which he lost). He was tied for the lead with Retief Goosen at the '02 Masters, where the Goose finished three shots behind and asked if he got green trousers for finishing second.
 
Woods said the view is different from inside the ropes. Mickelson was just another player he was trying to beat, even if the volume was cranked up and the cheers were evenly divided.
 
'You could care less,' he said. 'You're just trying to post a low number and try to beat your opponent. You're just in your own little world, and you're trying to handle your business. Afterwards? Yeah, you can reminisce over what happened, but not when you're in it.'
 
Some of his most dramatic duels have come against unheralded players, whether it was Bob May at the PGA Championship in 2000 or Chris DiMarco last year at the Masters or Grant Waite at the 2000 Canadian Open.
 
Woods was quick to point out that the top five players often are atop the leaderboard at the majors, even if they aren't there at the same time, or in the final group on Sunday.
 
Recent history bears that out.
 
The Big Five has won 15 of the last 24 majors dating to 2000. And even in those majors where someone else wins, there have been only four times that one of the Big Five was not at least the runner-up.
 
'You've seen myself, Mickelson, Goose, Ernie or Vijay, generally one of us five in just about every major championship down the stretch,' Woods said. 'Whether or not we can separate outselves and go one-on-one, it's a totally different story.'
 
Woods and Mickelson were five shots clear of anyone else last year, which made it a different story, indeed.
 
And while Woods says he was too wrapped up in winning to care about whom he was beating, the satisfaction clearly goes to a higher level.
 
What got Mickelson more fired up? Going against Woods at Doral last year, or beating Skip Kendall in a playoff at the Bob Hope Classic?
 
'I don't know how to answer that,' Mickelson said. 'What I try to do is hit the shots where I can make birdies. But certainly, it seems as though when I'm playing against Tiger, playing against Ernie or Vijay or Retief, I've got to shoot low scores and make more birdies than against some guys that have won.'
 
Goosen has been in that position.
 
He beat Mark Brooks in the U.S. Open playoff at Southern Hills. And while they weren't in the final group, Goosen beat Mickelson to win the U.S. Open two years ago Shinnecock Hills.
 
'It doesn't make much difference who it is,' Goosen said.
 
But then he thought back to Shinnecock Hills, where the New York gallery was so squarely behind Mickelson that 'it felt like I was playing with him.'
 
'You always get more pleasure if you beat great players,' Goosen said.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Ford Championship at Doral