By Paul Newberry
AUGUSTA - It's easy to get carried away with Tiger Woods at Augusta National, or any other place, for that matter. Will he win a fifth green jacket? Will he get started on a Grand Slam?
But let's not forget another guy who knows his way around Bobby Jones' layout.
Over the last four years, Phil Mickelson has more Masters wins (two) than Woods (one). Now that Arnold Palmer has struck the ceremonial tee shot to get things started, Lefty probably has the best chance of anyone to stop Woods' seemingly inevitable march to a fifth title here.
Woods teed off under sunny skies Thursday, about an hour behind schedule after soupy fog blanketed the course just past sunrise. The world's No. 1 player got off to a shaky start, pulling his drive up against the second cut to the left, then missing the green to the right with a towering second shot.
He chipped six feet past the cup, but managed to sink the putt to save par, the ball rolling around the edge before dropping in.
Luke Donald was the early leader, with birdies on two of the first three holes. Heath Slocum got to 3 under before dropping back with two straight bogeys around the turn.
Mickelson had an afternoon tee time.
Palmer was able to say his tee shot traveled so far he never saw it land. The thick fog limited visibility to about 200 yards, leading to a delay after the King's ceremonial strike.
Mickelson certainly feels at home at a course where he sank an 18-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to claim his first major championship in 2004, and followed it up with another green jacket two years ago.
"I love this tournament," he said, "and I love when I get here, how you don't have to be perfect. You don't have to hit everything well to be able to score well."
He's describing his own game, of course, a perplexing mix of brilliant shots and indefensible gaffes. This is the guy who'll attempt swings in the heat of a tournament that no one else will even try on the practice range. This is also the guy who said this about himself, "I'm such an idiot," after throwing away the 2006 U.S. Open and losing a chance to go for a Grand Slam of his own.
Which brings us to Augusta, as pristine a spot as you'll find on the planet. And back when he was still the best player never to win a major, Mickelson always felt this would be the tournament where he broke through.