Sports views: Mickelson, Singh battle at more than game of golf

Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2005

Not all the mud being splattered around Augusta National this week has been caused by rain. Anybody who thought feuds like Shaq and Kobe were too raw for the polite world of golf had better think again.

In a plot line straight out of ''The Bold and the Beautiful,'' the daytime soap centered on the world of fashion, Vijay Singh sicced Masters rules officials on rival Phil Mickelson over a pair of shoes. Not because of the color or because loafers might have gone better with the rest of Mickelson's outfit; but because Singh was playing behind Mickelson on Friday and didn't appreciate the pockmarks Lefty and his 8 millimeter-long spikes were leaving behind on the putting surfaces.

After two separate spot checks, just off the 13th tee and then in front of that green, Mickelson was cleared of any blame. That should have been that. It might have been, too, had Mickelson not heard Singh retelling the story — in the regal inner sanctum of the champions locker room — during a rain delay. Several versions of the confrontation that ensued were making the rounds Saturday, but none included anything being thrown beyond words.

Mickelson said in a statement at day's end, ''I believe everything is fine now,'' which was every bit as convincing as Mark McGwire's recent testimony before a congressional committee. And muted as even that version sounded, it must have been music to Tiger Woods' ears.

For the first time since Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player were branded the ''Big Three'' almost five decades ago, golf has a ruling triumvirate every bit as competitive, compelling and contentious as those giants of the game.

(Most golf fans wound argue this generation actually includes a ''Big Four,'' and based on his game, Ernie Els certainly qualifies. But the South African is so universally liked, even by Woods, Singh and Mickelson, that we're leaving him out of the discussion.)

At various times, Singh and Mickelson and Woods have battled each other on the golf course with clubs and in the locker rooms with whispers. Like the original ''Big Three,'' they've kept the low blows largely out of the public eye. But a cottage industry has sprung up, trading in rumors about who said what about whom.

After the completion of the rain-delayed second round Saturday, Singh set up shop in his customary spot at the far right side of the driving range. He pounded balls for the better part of an hour before heading over to another part of the practice facility to work on his short game. When Singh returned a half-hour later, Mickelson was working in the middle of the range.

Singh stood behind his bag, and wearing a crooked grin, looked down the row of players covering the hundred or so yards between them. If that was his idea of intimidation, it was a waste of time. Playing left-handed, Mickelson hit shots with his back turned to the right side, and never bothered to so much as look over his shoulder. Woods, meanwhile, claimed his spot on the far left side, presumably to keep an eye on both.

By the end of the day, Woods still enjoyed the best view.

After finishing his second round with seven birdies and a 66, he made five more in the nine holes he completed by the close of play to get to 9-under and within four shots of leader Chris DiMarco. Singh struggled to bring home a 1-over 73 for his second round, then settled comfortably in the middle of the leaderboard in a tie for fourth after playing 10 more holes and reaching 4-under. Mickelson wound up giving ground to both, finishing Saturday at 3-under and tied for 10th.

Their positions might be indicative of something or nothing, or maybe they suggest trading blows in public can be a drain.

In the past year or so, Phil has ripped Tiger in a magazine interview for using ''inferior equipment.'' And even before calling in the fashion police, Vijay questioned Phil's image as a family man, suggesting we rarely ''see the true side of Phil. ... But you see the true side of me,'' Singh added. ''I don't hide things.''

Woods, who is great at hiding things, has wisely managed to keep his opinions on both entirely to himself.

Maybe that's why the only problem Woods had with mud all day Saturday was the clump that stuck to his golf ball on No. 10.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org.



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