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It's Phil vs. Tiger

Lefty leads by two, but Woods gets hot to make up ground. And today's final round is the kind of matchup fans have been waiting for.

By BOB HARIG
Published March 6, 2005


MIAMI - Oh, to know what they really think.

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are as good at deflecting questions about their indifferent relationship as they are at discharging golf balls into the distance.

All of those skills were on full display Saturday at the Ford Championship at Doral.

Woods hit the kind of awe-inspiring shots that have made him a can't-miss attraction, posting 6-under 63 on Doral's "Blue Monster" course to pull within two shots of Mickelson.

Mickelson continued his torrid play, making seven birdies and a bogey for 66 to lead his 10th consecutive round of stroke play on the PGA Tour.

That set up a final-day showdown with two of the game's biggest draws in what is sure to be a raucous setting.

And yet, there is likely to be virtual silence among them.

"It should be a fun day, I'm looking forward to it" said Mickelson, who was at 196, 20 under, through 54 holes and will try for his third straight stroke-play victory. "It's going to be a tough challenge. With the round that Tiger put together, my goodness ... it's hard not to notice when you look on the leaderboard and he's one lower every time. I'm fortunate I was able to make enough birdies to keep the lead."

Woods' 63 put him at 198, 18 under. Defending champion Craig Parry (67), Zach Johnson (64) and James Driscoll (67) were tied for third, six shots back of Mickelson. Another shot back at 203 were Vijay Singh (68), Jim Furyk (67) and Jose Maria Olazabal (70).

For anyone, it was tough to not know what Woods was doing. A huge crowd followed him under sunny skies with little wind that left the "Blue Monster" nearly defenseless.

Woods hit his second shot over the green at the 551-yard, par-5 10th, setting up an easy birdie. He became the only player this week to reach the 603-yard, par-5 12th, hitting a 257-yard second shot with his 3-wood that set up a two-putt birdie. And he drove the green at the 370-yard, par-4 16th, carrying his tee shot 330 yards. He shot 30 on the back nine.

"This was a dominating two hours," NBC-TV golf analyst Johnny Miller said of Woods' back nine. "It reminded me of 2000 (when Woods won nine times, including three major championships), what we saw a lot of then. It was magical in a lot of ways."

Woods refused to get caught up in the hype. Ranked No. 2 in the world with a chance to take the top spot from Singh, Woods deftly dodged questions about fourth-ranked Mickelson, their uneasy relationship and their ill-fated pairing at last fall's Ryder Cup, where Europe beat the Americans 18.5-9.5. "We both know we're going to have to go out there and make a bunch of birdies," said Woods, who will attempt to win for the second time this season and the 42nd in his PGA Tour career. "You just go out and make birdies and see what happens."

The two have not been paired in the final round of a tournament since the 2003 Buick Invitational, won by Woods, in which Mickelson entered trailing by two and finished six back. It was shortly before that tournament that Mickelson was quoted in a magazine article questioning Woods' use of "inferior equipment."

They played as partners at last year's Ryder Cup with disastrous results, losing to Colin Mongtomerie and Padraig Harrington in a best-ball match and to Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood in alternate shot.

Mickelson, 34, finished third behind Woods, 29, at the 2001 and '02 Masters and was second to Woods at the '02 U.S. Open. But he is one of just three players to overtake Woods when he had a final-round lead, beating him at the 2000 Tour Championship.

"Five years ago. ... Great," Mickelson quipped.

"It's going to be tough," he said later. "But I had a different feeling (Saturday). I wanted him to play well. I want to go head to head with him. It's a fun opportunity. Rather than be worried that he's making birdies, I've been looking forward to the chance to play head to head against him. If I'm able to turn things around from the past and come out on top, if I'm fortunate enough to do that, it will make for a very special week."