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Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson off to contrasting starts

Updated: September 9, 2014 6:34AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As Tiger Woods’ world turns. . .

Yes, he made a surprising recovery from Sunday, when he departed from Firestone looking like a man who appeared to need major bed rest, not a major tournament.

The Greatest Golfer of This Century even sank some decent putts. An 18-footer on No. 6 got
the crowd going, and a 15-footer
on No. 2 wasn’t bad, either.

The trouble is, the putt on No. 6 was for par. The putt on No. 2 was for bogey. And the birdie putts on the three holes in between never had a chance.

It all added up to a 3-over par 74 that leaves Woods in a deep hole if he’s going to contend this week.

‘‘It wasn’t very good,’’ Woods said. ‘‘A lot of bad shots, and I never got a putt in the hole.’’

Woods, 38, wouldn’t blame his back problems, saying, ‘‘It’s a little bit stiff, but that’s about it.’’

But it was apparent that the March back surgery that sidelined him for much of the season and the unrelated back injury he sustained last Sunday are taking their toll in terms of rust.

‘‘The man looks like he needs to play some golf,’’ playing partner Padraig Harrington said. ‘‘He looked kind of raw — just not enough rounds under the belt to score and do the right things.’’

Woods wasn’t ready to write off this opportunity for a 15th major publicly, though: ‘‘If I get under par for two rounds, that will be right in the ballgame.’’

Not that we should expect that from a player whose body is showing a lot of wear and tear, and whose mind must be churning at the thought of where his golf game is at.

On the other hand, the player Woods always seems to overshadow, Phil Mickelson, had a more pleasant tour of Valhalla playing with Woods and Harrington.

Following up his final-round 62 at Firestone last Sunday, Mickelson shot a 2-under 69 that leaves him in position to have a good week. They’ve been rare this year for the five-time major winner, who has not had a top-10 finish this year.

That was especially true because after starting his day 2-over on his first eight holes, Mickelson went 4-under par on his final 10 holes.

‘‘I just need to get on the first tee with more confidence,’’ Mickelson said. ‘‘My game finally has kind of come together, and the confidence just needs to slowly come with it. It’s still on low because of the way I’ve played this year.

“[On Friday] I expect to play with more assertiveness and confidence.’’

Barring a miracle this weekend, Woods will head into the 2015 season having gone nearly seven years since his last major victory. After he won the 2008 U.S. Open, that would have been a shocking thought.

Meanwhile, Mickelson, who’s on the Ryder Cup bubble, quietly can set a pretty good record this weekend. If he plays well enough, he’ll earn a 10th automatic Ryder Cup, tops on either side of the pond.

Given the competitiveness of golf these days, a 20-year Ryder Cup automatic qualifying run is a record that would be likely to stand for a long time.

Then again, for all the angst about Woods’ major drought, his 14 premier wins aren’t going to be surpassed anytime soon, either.

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