Mickelson, Woods set to clash at Buick Invitational

Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2003

SAN DIEGO -- A script right out of Hollywood came together in a span of 20 minutes late Saturday afternoon in 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 his chief nemesis, 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 only one stroke out of the lead.

''This will be like the 16th hole of Phoenix on every hole.''

The buzz over Woods' return to the PGA Tour turned into a frenzy at Torrey Pines when he surged into the lead with a 4-under 68, mixing an array of incredible shots with a steady diet of 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.

In his first tournament since Dec. 12 surgery on his left knee, Woods didn't waste any time getting back into a familiar position. 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 -- guess who? -- Mickelson, in the 2000 Tour Championship at East Lake.

Wait -- it gets better.

Only last week, Mickelson stirred up their rivalry even more by saying in a magazine interview that Woods plays ''inferior'' clubs, and that he is the only players good enough to overcome ''the equipment he's stuck with.''

They cleared the air and saw each other briefly on Wednesday. Their next meeting comes Sunday morning on the first tee at Torrey Pines.

''I guess it is ironic,'' Woods said.

Still, both of them have played well at Torrey Pines. Mickelson won in 2000 and 2001; Woods won in 1999 and has never 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.''

Sure, but who could have guessed this?

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 him by nine strokes.

Mickelson had a 69 by making his 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole, and he knew exactly what was riding on that putt.

''I was thinking on that putt on 18, I would love to get into that last group,'' said Mickelson, who was two strokes behind at 206, along with Steven Alker.

Johnnie Walker Classic

PERTH, Australia -- Ernie Els all but wrapped up his fourth victory of the year, shooting an 8-under 64 to stretch his lead to nine strokes in the Johnnie Walker Classic.

Els had a 23-under 193 total on the Lake Karrinyup course to break the European tour's 54-hole record of 194 set by Argentina's Vicente Fernandez in the 1975 Benson & Hedges Festival.

The South African star also shot a 64 on Thursday and had a 65 Friday. He birdied the first hole Saturday and eagled the third, his third eagle of the week. He finished with seven birdies and a bogey on the par-5 15th, the hole he eagled the first two days.

South Africa's Craig Kamps (64) and France's Jean-Francois Remesy (67) were tied for second.

ACE Group Classic

NAPLES, Fla. -- A week after becoming the first Canadian winner in Champions Tour history, Dave Barr shot a 7-under 65 to take a one-shot lead over Jay Overton and Vicente Fernandez after the second round of the ACE Group Classic.

Barr, the Royal Caribbean Classic winner last week in Key Biscayne, had an 11-under 133 total.

Overton, who won a playoff in the qualifier for one of three spots in the event, tied the tournament record with a bogey-free, 9-under 63. Fernandez shot a 66.

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