TIGER, TIGER, Tiger! Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson must be sick of this guy. On Sunday both players were in position to cut into the top-ranked Woods's lead in the World Ranking, but Els imploded on his final nine holes at the European tour's Dubai Desert Classic, and Mickelson lost the FBR Open in a playoff with J.B. Holmes. The aftermath wasn't as dismal for Mickelson since he had shot a 67 to come back from four strokes down in the final round and force an extra hole less than two weeks removed from a respiratory infection that cut into his preparations for the season. For Els, who led Woods by four shots with nine holes to play, it was yet another defeat at the hands of his tormentor, further withering any confidence he may have left. Woods, meanwhile, rolls on. His closing 65, punctuated with a 25 foot birdie putt and multiple fist pumps on the 72nd hole, means that he has won the last five events he has played, dating to last year's BMW Championship, and has prevailed seven times in his last eight starts. In the other one he tied for second.
• ESTEBAN TOLEDO finished 21st in his national championship, the Nationwide tour's Mexico Open, but still had a great week. On Jan. 28 Toledo was a passenger in a hired car on the Pomona Freeway outside Los Angeles at about 2 a.m. when the car in front of him swerved, hit the median, rolled several times and landed upside down in the fast lane. Toledo's driver positioned their car in front of the overturned vehicle and the two men pulled two young women, 20- and 21-year-old sisters, from the wreck, then waited until paramedics arrived. One of the women was bleeding and unable to speak, but both were released from the hospital the next day. "I thought the car might explode," Toledo said. "I have a family. I wasn't sure what to do, but God spoke to me. I still have a hard time getting the images out of my mind, but I feel good about what I did. I know God put me there for a reason." ... Yet another twentysomething Australian winning on the Nationwide tour is not news, but Jarrod Lyle's five-shot victory at the Mexico Open was unique. At 17 Lyle was told he had acute leukemia and was bedridden for nine months while undergoing chemotherapy. It was another year before he could walk a golf course again. That must have seemed like a lifetime ago as Lyle shot a closing 63 to seal his first Nationwide win.
• BEFORE HE became the crown prince of Big Break, Tommy Gainey earned $8.75 an hour wrapping insulation around water heaters for A.O. Smith in Mcbee, S.C. Since then Gainey has conquered the mini-tours and Q school to reach the PGA Tour, along the way making a name for himself as a poor man's Boo Weekley who wears two gloves on the course. Now Gainey's back in the water-heater business, as A.O. Smith has agreed to sponsor him. Terms of the deal weren't released, but if he factors in his travel and time on the range, Gainey may have actually taken a pay cut.
For Alan Shipnuck's Hot List, go to GOLF.com.
"The reality is that they were better than us."
—MY SHOT, PAGE G14
KEY STAT 21
Runner-up finishes for Phil Mickelson, seventh most among active players.
A desert party house with Presidential pedigree?
North Scottsdale, Ariz.
Auction (March 5)
Developer Jerry Nelson built this place to launch the Pinnacle Peak community, which sits among the stunning landforms of North Scottsdale and includes the Tom Weiskopf--designed Troon Golf and Country Club.
John McCain was a regular guest, so you might one day be able to put a sign out front reading: MCCAIN SCHLEPPED HERE.
BRANDON MALONE/ACTION IMAGES/ICON SMI (SMITH)
THUMB PRINT Amateur Kristie Smith, 19, gave herself a visual cue during the final round of the Women's Australian Open, won by Karrie Webb. Perhaps Smith, who tied for fifth, should have written WIN.
SHELDON GOOD & COMPANY AUCTIONS INC. (HOUSE)