- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

SAN DIEGO A script right out of Hollywood came together in a span of 20 minutes late yesterday 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 this 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.
Don't forget about Faxon.
He had a chance to put distance between everybody when a short birdie putt at No.10 moved him to 13 under. Faxon three-putted for bogey twice, and had to make a 3-foot par putt on the par-5 15th for a 71 to get into the final group.
"I think I'll be the judge," he joked about the Woods-Mickelson pairing.
That might not be the main event.
The Buick Invitational has a history of the winner coming from behind, although rarely does the front-runner have the reputation or record of Woods.
"I can't just worry about Phil," Woods said. "There are a lot of guys right behind us. If we don't go out there and play well, we will get passed. We have to take care of our own business."
Alker joined Mickelson at 206, thanks to a lob wedge from 92 yards that spun back into the hole for eagle on No.18. Fred Couples birdied the last two holes and was in a large group at 207.
A dozen players were within five shots of the lead.
It might be time to stop asking about his knee. Woods reported no swelling or pain when he awoke Saturday morning from a 27-hole round, which he called a "very positive sign."
An even better outlook is some of the shots he hit that electrified the gallery on an overcast day along the Pacific Ocean.
From 277 yards in a fairway bunker, Woods ripped his 3-wood to about 15 feet for a two-putt birdie on No.6.
One of the loudest cheers came from his only bogey on the next hole. From a fairway bunker, Woods caught the lip and came up well short, flew a wedge over the green in grass so thick he could barely see his ball, then muffed the chip.
He chipped in for bogey from 25 feet.
"Finally I said, 'Let's just get out of here with 6. Whatever you do don't make it a 7.' And it happened to go in," Woods said. "I was just trying to eliminate making another mistake, and I happened to get rewarded."
Even more rewarding were the pars, from 6 feet on five of six holes along the back nine of the South Course. That kept him in a tie for the lead when Faxon faltered, and Woods surged ahead with more fireworks.
From 289 yards away in the 18th fairway, his 3-wood sailed right of the green and into a corporate tent, where it hit the 5-year-old son of former San Diego Chargers kicker Rolf Benirschke.
Woods got a free drop in shaggy rough, then took a full swing with his 60-degree lob wedge. The ball landed a foot from the hole and rolled 6 feet by, setting up a birdie.
Mickelson has excessively deferential toward Woods since the equipment flap, and he continued to sing his praises Saturday.
Still, he relishes the opportunity.
"If you ever watching him or compete against him when he's in the final group and playing pretty good, he's very impressive," Lefty said. "I enjoy that challenge to try to keep up and catch him."

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