- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2006

MEDINAH, Ill. — It’s only fitting that major strangers Lucas Glover and Chris Riley stand perched atop the PGA Championship’s first-round leader board.

Fact is, Day 1 at Medinah was a complete dud.

The opener, which began with the promise of a Tiger vs. Phil duel at dawn, fizzled to a conclusion worthy of the Reno-Tahoe Open.

The golf world woke up expecting to see sparks from, and potentially between, the world’s top two players.

Instead, Woods and Mickelson played nice with each other while playing solid but unspectacular golf.

Sure, the 69s carded by Woods, Mickelson and third-wheel Geoff Ogilvy qualify as more than respectable. But after a week’s worth of hype, fans were hoping for a little more drama from the event’s marquee threesome.

“Overall, it was just a grind them out kind of round,” said Woods, who enjoyed the best ball-striking round of the trio but converted only a couple of a dozen mid-range birdie opportunities. “Nothing really exciting, just kind of grind it out.”

Nobody expected fisticuffs, nor a 62. But a couple of meaningful glares between the game’s two titans would have added a little spice to their budding rivalry. Instead, Tiger and Phil went so far as to swap tales and chuckles on the sixth fairway while Ogilvy was in the rough waiting for a ruling. Suffice it to say that reports of their icy rapport have been greatly exaggerated.

“If I didn’t know any of the back story, I would have said they were two normal guys who like each other just like any other two guys out on tour,” said Ogilvy, the default winner of Mickelson’s Winged Foot giveaway.

“I mean, you would never know — you wouldn’t think they are the best of friends, but you wouldn’t think they didn’t like each other.”

What back story? You would never know what, Geoff? Perhaps it’s just time to admit that familiarity has bred cordiality, not contempt, when it comes to Phil and Tiger.

There’s no question that they’re polar opposites in many respects — one a svelte, intense, introvert and the other a lumpy, laid-back extrovert.

But their common goal of collecting major victories has far more to do with their perceived animus than any real personal issues.

District native and tour veteran Olin Browne put it best when he observed recently: “You’ve got to remember you’re talking about some pretty big dogs fighting over the same fire hydrant.”

Still, the only real drama provided by the power pairing yesterday was waiting to see how Mickelson would escape with par after missing fairway after fairway and green after green. Lefty’s dual-driver approach yielded only five hit fairways yesterday, but he somehow made just one bogey; Lefty works in lob wedges the way Monet worked in pastels.

Of course, the Tiger vs. Phil snoozer wasn’t the only disappointment on a day defined by unrealized potential.

Billy Mayfair, two weeks removed from surgery for testicular cancer, took sole possession of the lead at 6-under through 12 holes before predictably running out of energy on the back nine en route to 69. Now, 3-under is certainly a stupendous score two weeks after edging the Reaper in a considerably more serious game. But if the 40-year-old Mayfair hadn’t tired down the stretch, you might be reading about the most remarkable story of the golf season.

Davis Love authored a resurrection routine of his own through 16 holes yesterday. Love entered the PGA Championship having recorded just one top-10 finish in 18 starts this season. And though his 18 PGA Tour victories rank him fourth among active players behind only Woods (50), Mickelson (29) and Vijay Singh (29), Love hasn’t lifted the laurels in three years. At 42, fading and largely forgotten, the golf world seemed ready to close the book on the elite portion of his career.

Perhaps Love was riled that in spite of his experience and position in the Ryder Cup standings (15th) few gave him a chance of earning one of Tom Lehman’s two Monday wild-card picks. Perhaps the Ryder Cup means more to him than his yacht club demeanor would suggest. Or perhaps he just remembered how to putt after three years of battling the blade.

In any case, Love too floundered at the finish, carding a triple-bogey on the nasty par-3, 17th to fall from sole possession of the lead at 7-under into a ho-hum scrum a 4-under.

That brings us to the day’s final disappointment: Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard, of course, galloped onto the major scene seven years ago at Medinah, pushing Tiger to the brink at the 1999 PGA Championship at the age of 19. His flair, passion and talent were obvious, teasing the world into assuming future Slam spoils. Of course, we’re still waiting, as Garcia has made a nasty habit of committing hari-kari with his putter on Slam Sundays.

He teased fans once again yesterday, playing the front nine in 32 strokes before, you guessed it, his treacherous short stick sabotaged a potentially great round on the back nine.

So, that leaves us with Glover and Riley, two players with one victory apiece and the combined star luminosity of a key fob.

Thankfully, it was only Thursday.

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