Mickelson grabs early spotlight from Woods at PGA

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 15, 2003

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - With the focus on Tiger Woods and his recent string of troubles in the majors, no one has been asking Phil Mickelson much about his own 0-for-41 drought.

After a terrific round Thursday, Mickelson barely gave anyone the chance.

''The Best Player To Never Win a Major'' gained a share of the lead after the first round of the PGA Championship, but kept himself at a curious distance. After shooting his 4-under-par 66, Lefty granted brief interviews near the clubhouse, then departed - skirting the post-round news conference that is a ritual for leaders at almost every golf tournament worldwide.

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''I don't feel as though I have tried to stay off the radar, if you will,'' said Mickelson, who shared the lead with Australia's Rod Pampling. ''I just wanted to have a little time to myself to get things going again.''

So would Woods. The world's best player, now at 14 months and counting without a victory at a major, stumbled in with a 74. He wasn't alone as many others in a strong field struggled on a tight course with high rough that demanded straight shooting.

Through his round, Mickelson played like a guy who might finally shed his unwanted label. Of course, he knows there's a long way to go.

''It was a nice start,'' he said. ''But it's nothing more than that.''

Woods knows that lesson. He subscribes to the theory that you can't win a tournament on Thursdays, but you certainly can lose one. After a 74 that included a missed 2-foot par putt on the final hole, Woods is in serious jeopardy of completing a year without winning a major for the first time since 1998.

This marked the sixth consecutive time he failed to break par in the opening round of a major - a streak that coincides with his majors losing streak, and a bad omen considering he has never won any tournament when he shoots over par in the first round.

Woods was so angry he refused to speak to reporters.

''I just didn't drive very well and put myself under a lot of pressure because of it,'' Woods said through a PGA Tour media official. ''It didn't matter what club I hit off the tee, I couldn't keep it in play.''

Play resumed Friday morning with a curious-looking group of only 12 players who managed to break par on a sunny, muggy day.

Pampling, whose first stint in golf was as a greenskeeper, missed only two fairways on his way to a bogey-free round.

Sitting alone a stroke back was Billy Andrade, who began the week as the second alternate before Larry Nelson pulled out because of a bad hip and Hidemichi Tanaka declined his invitation.

Masters champion Mike Weir and Lee Janzen were tied at 68. Vijay Singh and Fred Funk were among a group of seven players at 1 under.

More notable were the players who failed to take advantage of a soggy Oak Hill course that was supposed to be vulnerable after being softened up by two weeks of steady rain.

U.S. Open champ Jim Furyk bogeyed the final three holes to finish 2 over.

British Open champ Ben Curtis bogeyed his first four holes and ended 5 over.

Then there was Rich Beem, who made three double-bogeys, no birdies and shot 82, the highest first-round score by a defending champion since the PGA Championship switched to stroke play in 1958.

The biggest shocker, though, wasn't that Mickelson had it in him to shoot a low score, but that Woods faltered.

''Tiger shooting 4 over is always a surprise to me,'' Funk said. ''But nothing surprises me of the talent of Phil. He has so much power.''

David Toms guessed that maybe it's time for Mickelson.

''Maybe he can get the monkey off his back this week,'' Toms said. ''He's been playing good golf for a long time and he needs to win a major to erase the doubts.''

Andrade, meanwhile, has heard enough about Mickelson and Woods, two players who have combined to make more than $6 million this year. (Woods has the lion's share with $4.8 million.)

''They are great guys. But really, I'm more concerned about me right now,'' said Andrade, who ranks 135th on the money list at $291,186. ''They've made their chunk of change, so to speak, in 2003. And I'm looking to maybe cash in myself at this point.''