First there was the Rory Sabbatini Bring On Tiger plotline that began gaining momentum at last weeks Wachovia Championship when Sabbatini announced to the golf world he wanted a piece of Woods.
(Psst: Hell learn.)
Well, Sabbatini got what he wanted in North Carolina but not what he was looking for. Woods and Sabbatini were paired in the final group Sunday. Sabbatini, who had smoked Quail Hollow with a course record 64 on Saturday, ballooned to 74 on Sunday. Woods won the golf tournament.
But at times that day Woods struggled. So when Sabbatinis Thursday 67 at TPC Sawgrass left him with a share of the first round lead with Phil Mickelson, he couldnt let the Woods angle die.
After watching him on Sunday I think hes more beatable than ever, Sabbatini said of Woods, who by the way, had opened with 75 at THE PLAYERS.
Pretty soon everybody was on the bandwagon. GOLF CHANNELs Nick Faldo had this to say on the air during Fridays broadcast: Its what we need now. We obviously want as many players as possible to come and challenge Tiger. And it will take a brash character to stand up and look Tiger in the face and I say, I aint scared of you.
Almost at that very moment Sabbatini was bogeying the sixth and seventh and eighth holes to fall way back into the pack. Perhaps it was the golf courses (or the golf gods) way of telling the outspoken Sabbatini that actually it was he who is very beatable.
Then Sabbatini, who wouldnt make a birdie all day, got wet twice of No. 17 and carded a quadruple bogey 7. That led to an embarrassing 79.
Meanwhile a cut watch had developed when Woods bogeyed the fifth and eighth holes. That pushed him to 4-over with the cut line, at that moment, at 3-over. Soon the cut line moved up to 4-over and Woods, as he so often does, survived.
He did so by making a birdie on 16 followed by hard earned pars on 17 and 18. Going into the weekend Tiger Woods is only two shots behind Roary Sabbatini but nine shots off Mickelsons 36-hole lead. (The cut would eventually fall at 5-over.)
Ah, yes, Mickelson.
For weeks now there has been Mickelson-Butch Harmon intrigue. Neither had promised that Mickelson would start winning big tournaments immediately when Mickelson announced a few weeks ago that he had left instructor Rick Smith for Harmon, Woods former instructor.
But there was Phil, alone atop the leaderboard, after making birdie on the second hole Friday.
And there was Phil driving it in the water on No. 5; clipping a branch with his tee ball on No. 6; and struggling to make bogey on No. 7. That stretch dropped him to 4 under and just one ahead of seven players.
Suddenly the new Phil looked like the old Phil, especially when he tried hitting a hybrid from a fairway bunker on the seventh when his ball was too close to the lip of the hazard.
So pleeeeze explain that one to me, Faldo moaned after Mickelson came up well short of the green.
Next, Mickelson fanned his tee ball at the par-3 eighth. Bogey again. The lead was no longer his alone.
The golf course had been there for the taking in the morning. Jose Maria Olazabals stout 66 included birdies on the first, second, third and fourth holes. Steve Lowerys 66 was tidier yet: 10 of 14 fairways hit; 15 of 18 greens; and 27 putts. Stewart Cinks afternoon round opened with birdies on Nos. 1, 2 and 3 where his ball stopped inches short of a hole in one.
To his credit, Mickelson hung tough. And when he holed a short eagle putt on the 16th he was back to 5 under, one ahead of little-known Aussie Nathan Green, who once held a job mowing lawns at a crematorium.
And, at the end of the day, thats where Mickelson stood at the halfway mark. Maybe theres something to this Harmon-y. Mickelson has two thirds and a 36-hole lead during his brief partnership with Butch.
Woods, you can be sure, hasnt counted himself out. Sabbatini, perhaps, is wishing he had tempered his remarks.
Phil Mickelson, for his part, likes the storyline so far just fine.
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