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Original Issue

Past Tense

Paired for three rounds, the game's most famous antagonists played more like B-listers than stars

For about a minute, on the putting green next to the Blue Monster's 1st tee, all seemed right in the golfing universe. Tiger and Phil were rehearsing their strokes, with Butch watching and Stevie and Bones hovering nearby. You know the surnames.

Your personal TiVo was on overload. Woods winning an Open at Bethpage, Mickelson chasing. Mickelson winning a PGA at Baltustrol, Woods chasing. Harmon and Tiger together on various practice tees, before their breakup. Later, Harmon and Phil together.

The players were introduced, and the reverie was over. Playing together, for the third straight day, were the two most dominant figures in modern golf, and your view was unobstructed. How weird is that? Miami loves a winner, more so than most places, and the leaders wouldn't be teeing off for another three hours. Phil won at Doral two years ago, and Tiger has three Blue Monster wins. But in the age of Twitter, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately is more important than ever. On TV, Johnny Miller called Tiger and Phil "two great players of the past." Wow.

Mickelson played Augusta National on March 8, and Harmon said that Phil, who won his third green jacket last year, already has the Masters on his mind. Yes, he has shot a bunch of pedestrian rounds this year, but he could play Archie Bell & the Drells' Tighten Up on his driver, his swing with the big dog looks so connected. You have the feeling that before the year is out, he'll bury Johnny's words. But last week he finished 55th in the 66-man field, 20 strokes behind Nick Watney.

As for Tiger, who tied for 10th at Doral thanks to a closing 66, you never know where his head is. Same as it ever was. On the practice tee a half hour before his Thursday tee time he was looking in the viewfinder on the video camera of his coach, Sean Foley. When did you ever see him do that?

After one pushed tee shot in that first round, during which he shot 70, Woods shoved his driver back into his bag and said, loudly enough for fans to hear him, "I hate this club." When did you ever hear him let his guard down like that?

In his Friday round Woods hit what must have been the worst drive of his professional career, a smother hook that went 122 yards, according to Shot Tracker, without hitting a tree. If you didn't feel a soupçon of sympathy for Woods by this point, you should schedule an appointment with a cardiologist. When his round of 74 was over, he took questions from reporters out of habit, as if people actually still care about every little thing he does.

On Saturday, on the 560-yard par-5 8th, Woods pulled a tee shot that finished in the shaggy bermuda rough. He had 250 yards to the hole, over palm trees and bunkers and the tongue of a pond, into a quartering breeze. He and Stevie spent nearly three minutes discussing the shot without ever making eye contact. Tiger wanted to go for it, as if he could undo the damage of the tee shot with one heroic swing. It was so out of character. His caddie wanted him to pitch out, and he did, and a few hundred people watched Tiger Woods make a workingman's par.



SEARCHING After his closing 76, Mickelson (right) added Bay Hill to his schedule, while Woods took solace from his 66 on Sunday.