Weekend plot thick with drama at Trump Doral

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March 08, 2013
Brian Wacker,

DORAL, Fla. -- Sequels are almost never any good, but the Duel at Doral Part II promises to be a blockbuster.

It has more characters, a star-studded leaderboard, a familiar face on the marquee and even Donald Trump, whose personality is so large you'd be hard-pressed to confine it to Cadillac's biggest SUV.

For all the criticism Tiger Woods has received during his latest swing makeover, he has put on yet another virtuoso performance, this time at TPC Blue Monster at Trump Doral, which he has tamed to the tune of 17 birdies through two rounds.

Woods, who shot 65 on Friday, leads Graeme McDowell by two shots going into the weekend at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.

But like all great movies, this one has been about the performance behind the narrative.

Of all the records Woods has broken, not until Friday did he set another one when he reached a new personal milestone for most birdies through 36 holes in a PGA TOUR event, eclipsing his old mark by one.

Three times Woods had recorded 16 birdies through the first two rounds of a tournament. Twice he went on to win.

Judging by what we've seen so far, he could be on his way to a third.

But unlike so many of his past screenplays, this outcome isn't so obvious, which is what also makes it so delicious.

Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson, Freddie Jacobson, Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley and Dustin Johnson join McDowell in what should be one hell of a chase scene.

"Great to see the best players in the game playing as well as they are," McDowell said. "It's always exciting to have Tiger and Phil playing well. It brings the crowds and puts people behind their TV screens and that's what's important."

A group, a round and eight years separate this re-make from the last one with Mickelson this time playing in the penultimate pairing.

In 2005, Woods and Mickelson went head-to-head in a titanic final-round battle that ended when Woods made a 30-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole and Mickelson's chip shot for birdie on the last lipped out.

It's hard to imagine topping that, but there is potential with a plot thick enough to make Oliver Stone jealous and action so good Steven Spielberg would sweat.

Only last December, McDowell won at Sherwood Country Club by beating the tournament's host, who happens to be the same guy he's trying to catch here.

Then there's Stricker, who earlier this week gave Woods a putting lesson that he's since used to teach the rest of the field a thing or two.

Watson owns a certain Green Jacket Woods hasn't won since 2005 and with the Masters a little over a month away this could be a pretty nice prelude.

Schwartzel and Bradley have major resumes, too, and like Johnson they share the same area code with Woods in South Florida, which could make for some interesting banter at Woods' home club in Jupiter.

Then there’s Phil.

Since 2007 it's been Lefty who has owned the once one-sided rivalry with a memorable final-round pairing at Pebble Beach a year ago not lost in the memory bank. Mickelson waxed Woods by 11 shots and dusted the rest of the field, too.

Even though they won't be playing together Saturday, Mickelson is excited about the opportunity to make it so on Sunday.

"I've been playing some of my best golf when we get paired together," said Mickelson, who got an added boost of adrenaline from a trip to Augusta National earlier in the week. "I hope that (Saturday) I play a good round and so does he, and we get a chance to get paired together."

For Woods, a victory over Mickelson would surely be sweet.

"Phil has been one of the three or four guys that I've battled my entire career against," Woods said. "I've always enjoyed playing against Phil down the stretch.

It would also be another validation: Of his swing changes, of being "back," of proving that he's not ready to just hand over the torch to Rory McIlroy, who's not even in the picture after finally breaking par for the first time this season on Friday.

To Woods, who has already won once this year and has four victories over the last 12 months, it doesn’t matter who's in the way. But like Mickelson there's a special place inside him for beating the other guy.

"We've had our battles," Woods said. "I've won and he's won. So it's been good."

Now Saturday and Sunday have a chance to be great.

For two days, TPC Blue Monster hasn't scared away any birdie opportunities. The weekend will be different with the wind expected to pick up and the greens playing as firm and fast as they ever have.

With Trump ripping up the 800-acre property as part of a massive makeover beginning Monday, the putting surfaces promise to be rock hard.

The Monster can be as mean as it wants to be, and the sequel can be even better than the original.

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