World's Top Two Players
Comfortable At Torrey Pines
Woods, Mickelson Prepping For
January 23, 2008
By Ken Klavon, USGA
San Diego - An ailing Phil Mickelson steadied himself
before lurching onto the makeshift stage in the media room
Wednesday at Torrey Pines Golf Club.
Noticeably thinner, gaunt and eyes as red as a Caribbean
sunset, Mickelson sat before the assembled group of
reporters looking bereft of sleep. Felled by a nasty
illness since October, he soon perked up. Two issues - the
U.S. Open and Tiger Woods - quickly caught his
The latter put him in defensive spin-speak. The 1990
U.S. Amateur champion and four-time U.S. Open runner-up
wasn't sure what to make of Woods' recent post to
his Web site stating he thought golf's Grand Slam was
achievable this year. The issue was obviously played up
because of their rivalry, real or imagined. After all,
perception is reality. Is it not?
"Well, he's obviously a very confident player
and he should be," said Mickelson, a three-time major
champion. "He's won countless events and
|Four-time U.S. Open runner-up Phil
Mickelson is hoping to finally bring home the trophy
this June in his hometown of San Diego. (USGA Photo
"I think that this year I should be able to put
myself in contention as well and I look forward to the
opportunity to compete against him."
If Woods, an eight-time USGA champion, should pull off
the vaunted Grand Slam, it would put him within one major
victory of Jack Nicklaus' record 18. Woods didn't
backtrack Wednesday. He understands he's judged solely
"I've had that happen before, won two majors in
a row and people say, 'What's wrong with
you?'" said Woods laughing. "It is what it
is. The question is, do I see it as a possibility? And I
"For most of my career I've won more than four
tournaments a year per year, and all I have to do is win
the right four, and I've done those a few times. . A
couple years ago I came within four shots of at least being
in a playoff - winning or being in a playoff on all four,
so yeah, I think it's possible."
It begins this week at Torrey Pines as the defending
Buick Invitational-champion Woods aims to begin his 12th
season on the PGA Tour with a win, which would be the sixth
time he's won his first start of the year. Win or no
win, building a strategy for the U.S. Open is like
foregoing the battle to win the war.
In some ways Torrey Pines, built in the 1950s, stands as
a piece of real estate that both players would like to
personally annex. Mickelson played many of his high school
golf events on Torrey Pines' South Course, site of the
2008 U.S. Open, and currently resides in nearby Rancho
Santa Fe. Every week when he's home, Mickelson has
played the city-owned facility. He admitted that Rees
Jones' 2001 redesign, done with the U.S. Open in mind,
erased "all that local knowledge I had."
Woods, who seems to conquer all that he surveys, grew up
in southern California as well, played in the Junior World
in July three times at Torrey Pines and knows the nuances
of the course every bit as well as Mickelson. Maybe a bit
more judging by past success at the Buick Invitational.
Since 1999, Mickelson (twice) and Woods (five) have
combined to win seven Buick titles. But for either player,
the ultimate coup de grace would come in June, and both
realize the course won't resemble what they will see
"I played when it was burnt out, bone dry, fog
delays," said Woods.
"I've seen what can happen here that time of
year, and I do feel comfortable on this golf course.
It's a matter of having my game show up at the right
The same hypothesis would need to prove true for
Mickelson. It is one reason that, as miserable as he looks
and feels, he decided not to withdraw. It is a golden
opportunity to study the layout in a competitive situation.
Many of the players are making no secret about developing
mental bookmarks for the Open. Mickelson said they'd be
crazy not to.
Without giving too much away, Mickelson hinted that
he'll pay close attention to the original William Bell
design that features greens with merciless breaks. This
week the green speeds will roll between 10Â½ and 11 feet on
the Stimpmeter, according to PGA Tour Tournament Director
Mark Russell. Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of
Rules and competitions, hopes to have the greens firmer and
running around 13 on the Stimpmeter for the Open.
Glancing at the Buick field, Mickelson said "so
many guys are here to get ready and know the golf course,
learn some of the tricks on the greens and where to play
it, where you can hit it, where you can't and try to
get ready for the U.S. Open."
If he can take his own advice, maybe he can derail
Woods' sense of purpose come June.
Ken Klavon is the USGA's Editor of New Media.
E-mail him with questions or comments at