Phil rebounds past Tiger

Tiger Woods was at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday as he began serious preparations to end a victory drought that has stretched to more than 16 months.


The sunglasses he wore last year to fight the pollen were gone, as was the intense scrutiny that surrounded the then-No. 1 player in the world.

The four-time Masters Tournament champion, who hasn't won at Augusta National in six years, is not the story he was last year.

The 2010 Masters was his first competitive event in five months because of the fallout from his scandal. Interest was so high last year that when Woods teed off on the back nine of a Sunday practice round, more than a dozen early-arriving media members witnessed it. On Sunday, when he teed off again on No. 10, there were three.

There were a few more when he made the turn, but he didn't impress them on No. 1.

After his first tee shot went in the pine straw in the left woods, he reloaded. This one was straight but short, just past the halfway mark up the hill.

"Roll," Woods said to himself. "Have you ever seen such a slow swing? That one went about 220."

Playing partner Jeff Overton then outdrove Woods easily.

For the first time since the 1996 Masters, the year before Woods played in his first Masters as a pro and won in record fashion, more focus is on Phil Mickelson, a three-time winner at Augusta National and the defending champion, than on Woods.

On Sunday, every television on the grounds -- and especially in the locker room -- was tuned to the Houston Open, where Mickelson was shooting a final-round 65 for a three-shot victory with a 20-under-par total.

The last time he won the prelude to the Masters -- in Atlanta in 2006, when he finished 28-under -- he went on to win the green jacket.

With Sunday's victory, Mickelson moved from sixth to third in the Official World Golf Ranking and Woods dropped from fifth to seventh. It is the first time that Mickelson has been ahead of Woods since the week before Woods won the 1997 Masters.

"It's good for his confidence," two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw said after he heard Mickelson had won.

"Most of the time you see a string of good play before someone wins the Masters," Crenshaw said. "In essence, you catch a wave of confidence in your game and you want it to spill over here."

Mickelson is expected to be at Augusta National today, when he will pick up the No. 1 player badge that goes to the defending champion and practice or play. He already has made two trips to the course for practice rounds, including early last week.

An afternoon plane from Houston brought a number of players into Augusta on Sunday, and by the close of day, 50 players had registered.

Those players found a course that was playing long and wet because of heavy rainfall last week. The club can dry out its wet greens with its SubAir system under the ground, but the fairways are another story. They are still wet, and the grass was not cut down Sunday.

"It's starting to pick up a little bit of roll, but it's still playing a little bit longer than usual," said Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, who played nine holes Friday and 18 on Sunday.

Still, Johnson hit the par-5 13th hole with a 5-iron second shot Sunday and used a hybrid for his second shot to the 15th, the two most reachable par-5s on the course.

Woods said the fairways are "soaked and slow."

"Long, long, long" is how 1979 Masters champion Fuzzy Zoeller described the course after a round Sunday. It surely didn't make Zoeller, who retired from the Masters after the 2009 event, want to come back.

"Hell no," he said. "Are you kidding? Par would be about 80 for me."

The biggest question mark of the week is Woods, and whether and when he will regain his form.

"You don't count him out here," Crenshaw said. "He's got too many memories. Once he starts stringing out shots like he likes, he'll be fine."

Before Mickelson won Sunday, there was talk of this being a wide-open Masters because Mickelson and Woods had not won this season while a talented number of younger players were making their marks.

"I don't think it matters what the big stars are doing," Johnson said before he knew Lefty won. "I don't think Phil had won coming into this point last year and he won. So I think that's irrelevant."

Invitees who checked in sunday

- Stuart Appleby (Australia)

- Ricky Barnes (USA)

- Jason Bohn (USA)

- Angel Cabrera (Argentina)

- Paul Casey (England)

- K.J. Choi (South Korea)

- David Chung (USA)

- Ben Crenshaw (USA)

- Luke Donald (England)

- Rickie Fowler (USA)

- Hiroyuki Fujita (Japan)

- Bill Haas (USA)

- Peter Hanson (Sweden)

- Gregory Havret (France)

- Yuta Ikeda (Japan)

- Trevor Immelman (South Africa)

- Ryo Ishikawa (Japan)

- Jin Jeong (South Korea)

- Dustin Johnson (USA)

- Zach Johnson (USA)

- Robert Karlsson (Sweden)

- Martin Kaymer (Germany)

- Jerry Kelly (USA)

- Kyung-Tae Kim (South Korea)

- Lion Kim (USA)

- Martin Laird (Scotland)

- Hideki Matsuyama (Japan)

- Graeme McDowell (Northern Ireland)

- Edoardo Molinari (Italy)

- Geoff Ogilvy (Australia)

- Sean O'Hair (USA)

- Jose Maria Olazabal (Spain)

- Jeff Overton (USA)

- Ian Poulter (England)

- Justin Rose (England)

- Rory Sabbatini (South Africa)

- Adam Scott (Australia)

- Vijay Singh (Fiji)

- Heath Slocum (USA)

- Nathan Smith (USA)

- Brandt Snedeker (USA)

- Henrik Stenson (Sweden)

- Kevin Streelman (USA)

- Peter Uihlein (USA)

- Camilo Villegas (Colombia)

- Nick Watney (USA)

- Bubba Watson (USA)

- Tom Watson (USA)

- Mike Weir (Canada)

- Tiger Woods (USA)


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