Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Phil Thrills @ Deutsch Bank!!

The last time that Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were paired in the final round of a tournament it was a truly epic battle - a "mano a mano" effort at the Doral Open in March 2005, as Tiger prevailed over Phil by one stroke. In that tournament, Phil took a two stroke lead into the final round. Tiger and Phil exchanged the lead several times before Tiger pulled away at the end for a 2-stroke victory. Tiger shot a 66 to Phil's 69. On Labor Day, the fans finally got their wish... and believe me, it more than lived up to the hype!!

There was a little bit of an added twist in yesterday's final round of the Deutsch Bank tournament in Boston though as neither of the world's top two players took the lead into the final round. They were chasing Brett Wetterlich and Arron Oberholser. Wetterlich began the day at 13-under-par, carrying a one stroke lead over Oberholser, a two stroke lead over Phil, and a three stroke lead over both Tiger and Aaron Baddeley. Oberholser birdied the first hole and Wetterlich bogeyed the second hole to flip-flop positions. Most of us watching though just knew that it would only be a matter of time before Phil and/or Tiger would take over the lead. Sure enough, that would happen. A birdie on the 2nd, consecutive birdies on the 4th and 5th, followed by yet another birdie on the 7th pushed Phil to 15-under-par and a three stroke lead over Woods, Oberholser and Wetterlich. Tiger would then bogey the 9th hole to fall four back.

Phil's margin would grow to four strokes as he birdied the 10th hole. Olersholser would quickly answer with his own birdie on the 10th to get back within three. Tiger was now five strokes back and the tournament was now seemingly Phil's to lose. There's a good reason why Phil is often called "Phil the Thrill"... twice this weekend we got examples of this. On Friday, he was cruising along at 3-under-par before an errant tee shot and a couple of ill-advised hacks out of the rough left him with a triple-bogey 7 on the par four 9th hole. Yesterday, Phil's approach shot on the 12th hole was short and right. After a penalty drop, he nearly holed his 4th shot for a par as the ball hit the pin and rolled eight feet away. Phil would miss the bogey putt and suddenly his lead over Oberholser was down to one. Tiger lurked three back as did the steady Wetterlich who had a stretch of 12 straight pars after his early bogey.

On the 14th hole, Tiger rolled in a long birdie putt to draw within two. On the par-3 16th, Tiger hit a very nice shot to within eight feet of the hole. Mickelson came right back with an approach to within five feet. Both made their birdie putts. Oberholser would answer with a birdie of his own on 16 to get within a stroke again. Wetterlich broke his drought with a birdie of his own at 16 to get into a tie with Tiger.

Finally, the marquee pairing made it to the 18th hole... the ovations were loud and thunderous - as you'd expect for the tours two most popular players. Tiger would reach the green in two shots, while Phil's approach found some heavy rough to the left of the green. All day long - actually all week long, Phil was able to extricate himself out of trouble without any damage other than the two aforementioned occasions. Phil hit a brilliant pitch to within four feet of the hole. Tiger's long thirty-foot eagle put would stop a foot short of the hole. He tapped it in to temporarily pull within a stroke of Phil. The flatstick was Phil's friend all day as he only needed 23 putts on the day, sealing the effort by making his putt to close out his round of 66. Oberholser would have to eagle the hole to tie Phil, but his approach found the left rough and he settled for par. Wetterlich would birdie the hole to wind up in a tie for second with Tiger and Oberholser.

For the two stars that many used to call adversaries, there is now clearly a mutual respect in both camps... Tiger was quoted as saying "I think it was fun for both of us" while Phil made mention that he'd love to give the fans what they really want - a battle between the two in the final round of a major. Hopefully, next year we will get that wish. In the meantime, we will have to settle for showdowns such as yesterday's... and that isn't all bad!


The other big story yesterday - well of course it was the return of Pedro Martinez for the New York Mets! In addition to notching his 3,000th strikeout yesterday, Pedro would make 76 pitches and go five innings. Pedro scattered five hits and walked three, giving up two earned runs while striking out four. The Mets would give him plenty of offense and the bullpen was more than adequate as Pedro's historic day was also a victorious one in a 10-4 decision over the Cincinnati Reds. Afterwards, Pedro was just happy to "feel healthy." For those like me that have followed his major league career since day one, it was very satisfying to see Pedro back and pitching effectively!


Time for a little tennis now... Roger Federer had a little scare yesterday at the U.S. Open before he won an incredible 35 straight points over a nine game stretch on his serve. Federer lost the first set to Feliciano Lopez 6-3 before rallying and taking the final three sets. Federer will face the 2003 Open champion and America's best player, Andy Roddick in tomrrow's quarter finals. A-Rod won a tough first set tie-breaker against Tomas Berdych... Berdych then started having breathing problems and was forced to retire while down 2-0 in the second set. In today's feature matches on the men's side, #2 Rafael Nadal takes on David Ferrer, while #3 Novak Djokovic faces Juan Monaco. The women's side of the draw remains interesting in spite of the early exit of Maria Sharapova. #1 Justin Henin will take on Serena Williams, while #3 Jelena Jankovic takes on Serena's sister, Venus. If the two sisters happen to both pull off upsets, they would meet in the semi-finals.


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