February 16, 2003
SAN DIEGO -- A script that seems to be out of Hollywood came together in a span of 20 minutes Saturday afternoon at the Buick Invitational, when two players made birdie putts from the same line on the 18th green.
One of them gave Tiger Woods the lead.
The other allowed Phil Mickelson to join him in the final group.
"It's going to be mayhem out there," said Brad Faxon, who already has been nominated for best supporting actor, despite being one stroke out of the lead.
The buzz over Woods' return to the PGA Tour turned into a frenzy at Torrey Pines when he surged into the lead with 4-under 68, mixing an array of incredible shots with clutch par saves to build a one-stroke lead.
"I'm excited about even having a chance after taking off as much time as I did," said Woods, who was at 12-under 204.
This is Woods' first tournament since surgery Dec. 12 on his left knee. The next test is whether he can hold the lead, something he does better than anyone.
Woods is 26-2 on the PGA Tour when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead. The last player to beat him from behind was Mickelson in the 2000 Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.
Wait, it gets better.
Mickelson stirred up their rivalry recently by saying in a magazine interview that Woods plays "inferior" clubs, and that he is the only player good enough to overcome "the equipment he's stuck with."
They cleared the air and saw each other briefly Wednesday. Their next meeting comes this morning on the first tee at Torrey Pines.
"I guess it is ironic," Woods said.
Both have played well at Torrey Pines. Mickelson won in 2000 and '01, and Woods won in '99 and has not finished worse than fifth.
"If you were to pick two guys to play well on this course, you'd probably pick us," Woods said. "It's going to be exciting."
Television ratings are 113 percent higher whenever Woods is in contention. Now the final round of the Buick Invitational has been transformed into a tantalizing show featuring two of the best players in the world.
It will be the first time they have played together in the final round since the 2001 Masters, when Woods won an unprecedented fourth consecutive major.
They last played together in the second round of the unofficial Target World Challenge, when Woods beat Mickelson by nine.
JOHNNIE WALKER CLASSIC: Ernie Els shot 8-under 64 to extend his lead to nine in the European/Australasian PGA Tour event in Perth, Australia, and all but wrap up his fourth win this year.
He birdied the first hole Saturday and eagled the third, his third eagle of the tournament. He finished with seven birdies and one bogey on the par-5 15th, the hole he eagled the first two days.
"I saw other guys making moves and felt I would play aggressively," Els said. "It felt good on the range this morning. I had a nice start and obviously the eagle on three got things right on track."
Els had 23-under 193 on the Lake Karrinyup course to break the European tour's 54-hole record of 194 set by Vicente Fernandez in the 1975 Benson & Hedges Festival. Els shot 64 Thursday and 65 Friday.
Els won the first two PGA Tour events this year and added the Heineken Classic in Melbourne, Australia, two weeks ago.
Craig Kamps (64) and Jean-Francois Remesy (67) shared second place.