McDowell ready to upstage old order
IT'S an American dream ... Tiger and Phil going mano-a-mano for two days.
The only thing is, times have changed and there's a new order in golf, making World No 4 Graeme McDowell the best-ranked player in the three-ball with Woods and Mickelson at the Cadillac World Golf Championship.
The Portrush man is just a couple of hot performances away from vaulting over his Ryder Cup comrades, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and No 1 Martin Kaymer, to the summit of his sport.
Factor in the necessity for players in this week's elite 69-man field to keep their tee shots on the fairway at Doral's Blue Monster and there's every reason to believe Europe's US Open Champion can up-stage his celebrated playing companions today and tomorrow and even march on to victory.
Before his life came crashing down around his ears 16 months ago, Tiger would have been considered almost invincible at Doral, where he's never finished outside the top 10 in seven visits and saw off Mickelson in a thrilling final-day duel to claim victory at the 2005 Ford Championship.
Yet Woods yesterday suggested he's struggling to find time for practice as he undergoes an all-embracing game change with new coach Sean Foley.
He has even modified his putting action to fit Foley's philosophy.
And if Mickelson, champion here in 2009, has been relatively happy with his golf in the run-up to next month's title defence at the US Masters, only Kaymer and recently-crowned Accenture Match Play champion Donald can match McDowell for form and confidence right now.
The Ulsterman rates Donald as the best form player on the planet, with Kaymer next. Yet McDowell could go all the way to No 1 himself with a win this week and a prominent finish at Bay Hill.
"I'm in a position where if I keep playing the way I have been, the rankings will take care of themselves," he said. "Of course, I'd love to be the best player in the world
"Whether for one week or a hundred, I'd just love to get there, but my focus is on getting ready for each week and just having fun out there."
He snorted at the suggestion that he should be considered the "senior man" in his three-ball today, saying: "Yeah, sure. There's 19 Major wins between the three of us and, unfortunately, I can contribute only one of those.
"It's going to be great for the next two days. It's a fantastic draw.
"Sometimes it can be difficult to have the same level of intensity on Thursday at a tournament that you'd have on a Sunday -- it's hard to be 150pc up for every day. But I think playing with Tiger and Phil will do that for me this week. I'll have that natural adrenaline, I'll be focused and I'll be raring to go.
"Taking time off and coming back sharp is something I haven't been able to do in the past.
"I was always impressed how Tiger did that unbelievably well -- take five or six weeks off, come back and win. I'd wonder how he did that, but I'm starting to get the hang of taking time off and coming back sharp."
Sharp is the operative word.
America waits with bated breath for the showdown between Woods and Mickelson, but McDowell can burst that bubble.
Family first for Tiger as time at a premium
Tiger Woods gave a telling insight into why he's gone a career-long 15 months and 19 tournaments without a victory.
As he's struggling to bed in the swing changes suggested by new coach Sean Foley, Woods was asked why he didn't speed up the process by playing in more tournaments.
"Well, because I have a family," Woods retorted. "I'm divorced. If you've been divorced with kids, then you'd understand."
Time to practice, especially on his short game and his putting, has been at a greater premium than ever before for Woods.
Woods said that the changes have been bedding in at home, on the ranges in Isleworth and sporadically in tournaments.
"I'm not at the point yet where I can have an entire pure, ball-striking day for four straight days at home, never miss a shot and play good rounds of golf. I'm not at that point yet, but I'll get there."
McIlroy's happy monster memories
Rory McIlroy hopes a new putter will help him master a formidable old foe this weekend and set alight his 2011 season.
The Blue Monster has been one of McIlroy's favourite courses since he first played here at age eight in the Publix Junior Golf Classic.
"I love this place," said McIlroy, whose childhood memories include visits to Miami with his parents Gerry and Rosemary.
"We didn't get much chance to play at home during winter, so it was great to come out here," explained McIlroy.
"We spent a couple of Christmases at Doral. Every night I'd spend hours on the practice putting green and mum and dad would be over there in the restaurant. It couldn't have been any better."
McIlroy was badly hampered by a back injury as he finished well down the field in last year's World Golf Championship.
But, armed with a prototype putter made for him by Scotty Cameron, he's optimistic of a big performance this week on a course that favours long-hitters.
Padraig Harrington also performs well at Doral, evidenced by his third place finish in 2010, and the Dubliner had been working long and hard with Dr Bob Rotella here this week to get his head in the right place to arrest his recent slide down the world ladder.
WGC Cadillac Championship,
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