Memorial stage set for duel for No 1


DUBLIN, Ohio – Phil Mickelson has won 40 tournaments around the world, including four major championships. He’s won events honoring Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan.

But he’s never been handed a trophy on a Sunday by Jack Nicklaus.

He hopes to correct that this week at the Memorial Tournament.

As Mickelson was coming up Muirfield Village’s 18th fairway in a charity skins game on Wednesday, he and the Memorial’s founder and host had a little chat.

“He said he’d dearly love to win my tournament and I said, ‘Well, Phil, I’d dearly love to have you win it,”’ Nicklaus said. “I sort of gave him the line that Bobby Jones said about St. Andrew’s, that no golfer’s resume as a champion is complete unless they win at St. Andrew’s. So I told him, ‘No golfer’s resume would be complete unless (they) win at Muirfield.”

Phil Mickelson looks for No. 1Mickelson may never be in a better position to do it. He is still riding the crest of his emotional win at Augusta National and could bypass Tiger Woods to become the No. 1 player in the world.

Woods is making his return to competition after sitting out three weeks due to a neck injury. After a winter of rumor and innuendo in the wake of his admission of marital indiscretions, Woods has played sparingly and at times poorly. His swing coach, Hank Haney, and he went different directions recently, too.

But that doesn’t mean Woods is ready to step aside. Or that he’s focusing only on the threat of one player.

“There’s so many guys,” said Woods, who has won the Memorial a record four times. “If we’re playing match play or we’re playing matches one on one, say, like (Roger) Federer and (Rafael) Nadal do, that’s a totally different deal. We may be at the same event, but we may not all be in contention at the same time. When we are, we go at it.”

Nicklaus played with Mickelson on Wednesday and watched him shoot a 6-under 30 on the difficult back side at Muirfield Village.

“I’ve seen him play nine holes,” said Nicklaus. “Those nine holes he looked like he should be a layup No. 1. You don’t shoot 30 every time you play, though. He just drove it a mile, his irons were great. He played very well.”

But Mickelson has played well only in spurts so far this year. In addition to the victory at Augusta National, he finished second to fast-rising Rory McIlroy at Quail Hollow.

Woods hasn’t play much at all in the past few months. He took a week and a half off after he was forced to withdraw with pain in his neck at The Players Championship. He held his breath that he didn’t have a disk problem that might have required surgery.

“The symptoms were such that it could have been anything,” Woods said. “The worst-case scenario would have been a bulging disk. The MRI just showed a lot of inflammation in the joint (and) the joint has since calmed down.”

He is coaching himself, relying on videos to work on his swing while practicing more after playing just nine full competitive rounds since Nov. 15. He did play a fast 18 recently, wearing shorts and riding a cart.

Frequently smiling during a news conference on Wednesday, he said his tumultuous life off the course has also calmed down.

“I think that life is moving forward,” he said. “The last six months have been pretty tough and I’m now starting to get into golf and a routine of playing, which is something I haven’t done in a long time. So, hopefully, I can get back into that and play the rest of the summer and into the fall.”

The Memorial has proven to be almost an annuity for Woods. He won three in a row from 1999 to 2001 and again last year, and also has two third-place finishes and a fourth in just 11 starts. His average score is 69.53 – almost a shot and a half better than Jim Furyk, who’s second – and he has banked almost $4 million at Jack’s place.

Mickelson has only two top-10s in 10 starts at Muirfield Village, his best finish a tie for fourth four years ago.

But he looks and sounds committed to reversing his fortunes.

“I was telling Jack how much it would mean to me personally to be able to win his event,” Mickelson said. “And I’m going to be trying my hardest this week.”