Tiger Woods leads a stellar field at Doral's Blue Monster. But it's who's chasing that will make Saturday at WGC Cadillac at Doral one of the most exciting days in golf so far this season.
Phil Mickelson, who loves to beat Woods, is two back.
Sandwiched in between and paired with Woods is Graeme McDowell, another golfer who has topped Woods in the past.
If that weren't enough excitement, Steve Stricker, Charl Schwartzel, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley are within striking distance.
And portending things to come, Notah Begay, now commentating on the ground for the Golf Channel, said Woods "looks mean." And you know exactly what he's talking about. Tiger's game face is back on. His driver is working. His chipping is crisper, and he's making putts.
Despite his lead, Woods said he was not sharp early in his round.
"I didn't have a very good warm up this morning," he admitted. "Wasn't feeling very good with my swing, and just had a few keys I had to work through. I didn't do a very good job the first couple holes. Hit terrible golf shots there."
However "terrible" shots still meant even par early. He turned the corner after the third hole.
"I hit a decent shot into the green at three and I said, you know what, that's kind of halfway to where I need to be," he added. "All I need is one shot and as soon as I feel it on one, I can pretty much carry through, and I did that today."
He has had a total of 17 birdies in two days. And he's only ahead by two. That's how good the golf was by all contenders.
Woods said one difference this week was that he put himself in the right places on the golf course, particularly on the greens.
"That's probably the biggest key is that I left myself where I didn't have that many downwind, downhill, down grain, downwind putts," he added. "I kept leaving myself where I could be aggressive. These things are getting baked out fast and they are getting really tough to get close or even hold the green sometimes."
Through the first two rounds, challenger Phil Mickelson has been giving a clinic in trick shots. On Thursday, he explained how to hit a ball off the cart path. Friday, he explained how body English can assist when a ball looks like it's going to be a hole-in-one, as his did at the ninth.
"I gave it the little body shuffle there and usually that causes the ball to release a little bit more, but it didn't there," he said with one of his I'm-pulling-your-leg-so-hard-it-will-fall-off smiles. "It was dead online with the pin, the white of the pin and the ball meshed and I thought it was going to vanish. I was hoping it was going to vanish."
Mickelson said he was not surprised to have good rounds because his practice sessions at home had gone well.
"But you never know until you get out here, because the course conditions are so much more difficult or penalizing than we ever get at home."
He has had time with coach Butch Harmon this week and said they tweaked a couple of things that allowed Mickelson to get the ball within eight feet of the hole instead of 20 feet.
Graeme McDowell, who is one shot back of Woods, said the key to his play was his driver.
"Probably the best I've driven it this season," he explained. "Put a new driver in the bag this week, just with slightly more loft on it than I've been using, just getting a little bit more flight and controlling my flight a little bit better."
The greens were kind to him also.
"There's just a lot less grain this week," he said. "Don't know what they are doing with them, letting them burnout and dig them out Monday, so doesn't matter what happens to them this weekend. They are funny colors already, yellow and brown and all sort of stuff going on out there."
He was conscious of the competition ahead and behind.
"I saw Phil sneaking up the leaderboard there behind me and I said to Kenny, I said, let's spoil this party tomorrow," he added, knowing people would like to see Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the final group.
"I've been there many times and you know, always look forward to be playing with him," he said about Woods. "He certainly looks like if you can finish one ahead of him this weekend, it looks like you'll do okay here."
Mickelson also had his eye on Woods' progress during the second round.
"I saw Tiger was playing well and I wanted to make a couple birdies to get in the group with him," Mickelson said. "It seems since 2007 when we played at Deutsche Bank in Boston, I've been playing some of my best golf when we get paired together. I hope that tomorrow that I play a good round and so does he, and we get a chance to get paired together in Sunday's final round, because he seems to somehow bring out my best golf."
Woods, by now, is accustomed to taking on all challengers.
"You know, Phil has been one of the ‑‑ probably three or four guys that I've battled my entire career against. I've gone toe‑to‑toe with him, Vijay, Ernie ‑‑ who else, Duval, Goose, but mainly probably the first three I named," Woods said. "Vijay, Ernie and Phil around the world we have gone at it, and since I first came out on Tour. I've always enjoyed playing against Phil down the stretch, and you know, we've had our battles will I've won and he's won. So it's been good."
Good? Balderdash! It's great. It's the kind of golf that we wait to see.
Adding to the excitement are the rest of the cast: Stricker, Watson, Schwartzel, Johnson, Bradley and others who may come from behind and play spoiler headed into Sunday's final round.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.
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