Woods, Mickelson lift interest in Grand Slam
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By Bill Kwon
By Bill Kwon
Get ready for a Thanksgiving Week treat.
With Phil Mickelson, who shot a "magic number" 59 last year, defending his title and Tiger Woods returning after a two-year absence, the PGA Grand Slam of Golf on Tuesday and Wednesday on Kaua'i should be quite a shot-making treat for golf fans.
Joining Woods, who won the Masters and the British Open, and Mickelson, winner of the PGA Championship, will be U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell and three-time major winner Vijay Singh, the alternate because Woods took two of the four majors determining the elite group.
One thing's for sure: The Po'ipu Bay Golf Course, site of the PGA Grand Slam for the 12th straight year, will be in for another pounding now that Tiger's back at his favorite stomping grounds.
The Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course has been Woods' personal playground, judging by his five consecutive victories from 1998 to 2002. He set records with an 11-under 61, a 36-hole score of 127 and a 14-stroke victory when he made it a five-peat.
Despite his PGA Grand Slam dunk, Woods' successful run ended when he failed to win a major in 2003, and he was a no-show again in 2004. It only shows how tough it is to make it into golf's elite final four. Winning it doesn't guarantee a return to the event sponsored by the PGA of America.
You've got to win a major or be high on the alternate list if there's a multiple winner of the majors during the year, or if a winner of a major can't make it.
Without Tiger, the event's one-man show, the PGA Grand Slam lost some of its glitz the past two years, although Jim Furyk won in 2003 when the event featured a quartet of first-time major champions for the first time.
Furyk, who had won the U.S. Open, breezed to an eight-stroke victory over Masters champion Mike Weir, British Open winner Ben Curtis and PGA Champion Shaun Micheel.
Mickelson, who finally won his first major in the Masters, more than made up for Woods' absence last year with a career-low 59 that wiped out Tiger's event and course records.
Even Mickelson couldn't explain his 13-under round of 11 birdies and an eagle: "It was certainly unexpected. I didn't hit it great but somehow I shot a 59. So, go figure."
Mickelson had a shot at a 58, but missed a 9-foot eagle putt at the par-5 18th hole.
Mickelson's 59, though, was made under benign conditions at the usually wind-swept oceanside layout. Woods' 61, following a 66 the previous day, came during swirling tradewinds and, unlike Mickelson's performance, was easily explainable, according to Woods: "I really couldn't mis-hit a shot today. Every shot I hit was right in the middle of the club face."
Mickelson and Woods share the 36-hole record since the PGA Grand Slam first became a two-day event in 1991. But Woods still owns the record for margin of victory when he lapped the 2002 group that included Davis Love III, Justin Leonard and Rich Beem.
Said an admiring Beem, who had finished 18 strokes back, "(Tiger) didn't miss out on a 59. He missed out on a 57."
While the attention might be focused on Phil and Tiger in their personal duel for bragging rights and the $400,000 top prize, don't overlook Singh and Campbell.
Singh, who replaced top alternate Retief Goosen, has finished runner-up in three previous appearances at Po'ipu Bay and knows the course well.
Campbell will be getting his first look at a golf course in Hawai'i. But with his Maori roots, he'll definitely endear himself to local fans and be the gallery favorite as "Polynesia's Pro."
"The Grand Slam will be my first visit to Hawai'i and I'm really looking forward to it," Campbell said in an e-mail reply to The Advertiser.
"Obviously, there is a connection between our cultures, and maybe that helps Hawaiian fans feel more of a connection with me ... The more support on the fairways the better."
Besides the PGA Grand Slam, Campbell will be playing in the Mercedes Championships next January at Kapalua, Maui. Unfortunately, commitments in his native New Zealand will prevent him from playing in the Sony Open in Hawai'i, Campbell said.
The Po'ipu Bay Golf Course will have one new look for this year's PGA Grand Slam event. The ninth tee will be moved back 15 yards, lengthening the par-4 hole to 420 yards. The hole ranked the sixth most difficult for the event since 1994. "The hole is against the prevailing wind and if the trades come up it'll play a lot tougher," said head golf professional Craig Sasada.