Tiger-Lefty duo juices up Pebble Beach
At a tournament as much about celebrity as golf, Tiger Woods will be out to write his own Hollywood ending on Sunday.
Woods, in third place after three rounds, will tee off in the penultimate group at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in search of his first official win on the PGA Tour in almost 30 months.
To add to the star factor, Woods will be paired with a resurgent Phil Mickelson, a three-time winner at Pebble Beach.
The two biggest names of their generation will draw most of the eyeballs, but they will need to overcome a couple of career understudies, Charlie Wi and Ken Duke, neither of whom have ever won on the Tour.
Wi held his nerve on Saturday, shooting 69 to get to 15-under par. He has a three-shot lead over Duke and a four-shot cushion over Woods. Mickelson is two shots further behind, along with Kevin Na, Dustin Johnson, Brendon Todd and Hunter Mahan.
“Golf is very cliché,” said Wi, who played against Woods in their junior days in southern California.
“I’m sure I’ll be fighting my demons all day tomorrow and it’s how I handle myself tomorrow; it’s not what other players are doing.”
He conceded that he’d be nervous and has a tendency to get ahead of himself, “to try to do maybe a little bit too much, try to be too precise, too perfect.”
Woods, ironically, was far from precise on Saturday, but a hot putter made up for the miscues.
After beginning his round in the early morning drizzle on the 10th hole, Woods made six birdies in an eight-hole stretch; a run that began with a sliced iron approach shot into the 13th that took the most fortuitous of bounces and led to a tap-in birdie.
“It looked like I was having a tough time making par, and I was making birdie, and off we go,” he said.
“Sometimes we need those type of momentum swings in a round, and from there I made some putts.”
What heartened Woods most was that he shot 67 on a day when he didn’t have his best stuff.
“The bad days and the bad shots really aren’t as bad as they used to be,” he said. “The whole idea of making these swing changes was to become more consistent and I’m starting to see that now.”
Mickelson didn’t have his best stuff, either, but turned in a 70 that, on a cold, miserable day, left him within striking distance.
“I know that I’m quite a few shots back, but I also know on this golf course you can come out and get off to a quick start, make some birdies and when that happens, it’s tough (for the leaders) to follow suit,” he said.
Although Woods had the better of Mickelson for many years in head-to-head matches, Lefty has turned the tables over the past few years. Woods leads 13-12-4 over their career when they’ve played together.
Wi was careful on Saturday not to incite Woods, even going so far as to openly root for him to return to his former glory.
“It’s very important for him to be competing and being near the lead all the time because that drives viewers, and that’s what helps us with our retirement fund,” he joked.
He even liked a story about Woods he told on Friday so much, he told it again.
When Wi was 13 and Woods nine, they played a junior tournament in Long Beach where Woods came up 70 yards short of the green on a long par three, then almost holed a wedge.
“I mean, literally, almost went into the hole and he got so upset,” Wi said.
“I said, ‘Tiger, that’s a great shot, what’s wrong?’
“I was trying to make that,” Woods told him.
“That always stuck in my mind,” said Wi, “How competitive he was. He’s a fierce competitor.”
As Woods entered the interview room, Wi reminded him of the story.
Woods smiled but clearly didn’t remember it.
“It sounds like a good story,” Woods said later.
“For my version, I think it went in.”
They always used to. Now we’ll see if they do again.