DORAL, Fla. – The last time Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were spotted together on Augusta National was in the final round of the 2009 Masters. They nearly got together this week until plans fell through.
Mickelson and Woods talked about playing a practice round this week, but something came up and Woods couldn’t make it. He said he was home the last two days, practicing in his backyard short-game area or at The Medalist.
They have been fierce rivals and rarely social over the years, though one reason a practice round was even discussed is that Woods no longer has Steve Williams as a caddie. Williams disparaged Mickelson at a dinner in New Zealand late in 2008, and they don’t get along particularly well. Just his luck, Mickelson is in the same group this week with Adam Scott, who now employs Williams.
Mickelson, never shy about delivering one-liners, saved one of them for Woods this week.
A reporter mentioned that Ernie Els declared that “Tiger is back” after Woods closed with a 62 at the Honda Classic, and Mickelson was asked his assessment of Woods.
“Yeah, obviously he was paying attention a couple of weeks ago, which is nice to see,” Mickelson said, heavy on the sarcasm. That was a reference to Mickelson closing with a 64 to win Pebble Beach while paired with Woods, who shot 75.
The reporter didn’t get it, even though the room filled with laughter.
“At least I thought it was funny,” Mickelson said, brushing his hand over his head to suggest the reporter missed out on the line.
“It is good to see him back and playing well,” Mickelson added. “He’s always the name that you look at. He’s the first name that you look at on the leaderboard to see how he’s doing.”
BACK TO WORK: Paul Casey already has missed five tournaments this year after dislocating his shoulder while snowboarding over the holidays. It’s a bad time for an injury, especially in a Ryder Cup year, though Casey has a good reason to feel optimistic.
It could have been worse.
One of the doctors he saw in the aftermath of his injury said that surgery was a possibility, and he would be out four to six months.
“That was a little bit worrying,” Casey said Wednesday.
After getting more opinions, he was convinced that surgery was not needed. It was the first time he had dislocated the shoulder, the labrum was in good shape and there was every reason to believe he could return to 100 percent.
Casey figures he’s at about 90 percent at the Cadillac Championship at Doral, which has a 74-man field with no cut.
“It’s feeling strong,” he said. “All that work I’ve been putting into the shoulder, now I have to do a lot of work on the golf game.”
Casey said he heard a sound coming from his shoulder when he fell, felt pain and within minutes could not move his arm. When he got down the mountain and had an X-ray, he was told it was dislocated. Then, the shoulder was put back in the socket and the pain went away.
“I thought it was great,” Casey said. “I thought maybe I can be ready for Abu Dhabi or Qatar or something like that. I had absolutely no clue how long a dislocation takes to repair. Finding out that I didn’t need surgery was a relief because the surgery … basically would have wiped out the whole season.
Now, he has some catching up to do.
Casey is at No. 41 in the European points list (based on European Tour earnings) and No. 19 in the European ranking list. The top five players are taken from each list.
At least it didn’t cost him any of the four majors, which offer the most ranking points. Casey is playing the next two weeks in Florida, taking a week off, then playing Houston and the Masters.
“I think I’ll throw in some events as the golf game gets stronger and as the year goes on,” he said.
Mickelson reports a lot of grass on the course, which is a good sign (and yes, it will be cut back severely), along with some minor changes to the greens on the par-5 eighth and the par-3 16th.
He said the eighth green was widened in the front, and the slope on the left side was softened. He said a back right hole location would be more accessible with the changes.
More interesting was the green at No. 16. One of the most dangerous locations was front right, a tiny target. Anything too strong was over the green and into a bunker, while short meant the ball would roll down the hill. That area has been slightly expanded.
Also, the bottom of the green toward the front has been built up, so that players who leave their shots on the top shelf don’t have to worry about the putts rolling down the slope and into the water.
“After looking at them, I think that some of the more challenging pin placements on those greens were softened a little bit, and made to be not quite as difficult,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson rarely gets together with Johnson and Bradley without a friendly wager. Word is that Bradley had to reach for his wallet when they finished. When asked if they kept score, Mickelson replied, “Just 1 Up, 2 up.”
That was accompanied by a big grin.
RIVALS: There was talk of a Rory McIlroy-Lee Westwood rivalry during the Match Play Championship, and now that McIlroy has gone to No. 1, some are mentioning a McIlroy-Tiger Woods rivalry.
Hunter Mahan says there are too many good players for any one rivalry, especially involving Woods.
“Tiger doesn’t have a rival.” he said. “Just look at the record. I mean, there is none. His rival is Jack Nicklaus. It’s hard to put anyone up there right now with him. I understand his last few years haven’t been his best and everything that’s going on, but that guy, he’s had numbers that no one has even thought about reaching.”