Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen Lead Field at 2009 WGC-CA Championship

It’s a little too early to call, but this may be one of the best WGC to go down in history. Tiger Woods isn’t even part of the script yet.

Mickelson 2009 WGC CA Rd 1Well, it is only Thursday at Doral’s Blue Monster. The wind blew but in the easy direction with the signature 18th hole playing downwind. Tiger shot 1-under 71 and is tied for 40th in a field of 80 world-class golfers.

There was drama on Thursday though with a promise of much more to come. Three-time major champion Phil Mickelson, himself an emerging legend with 35 PGA Tour victories in a storied career since turning professional in 1992, put on a theatrical performance shooting a 7-under par 65 with only 20 putts.

Twice-baked U.S. Open Champion Retief Goosen (South Africa) brought out his favorite putter from the corner of his cold and dark garage to the warm Florida sunshine and it sizzled, too. He needed only 23 putts in his own version of 7-under 65.

Padraig Harrington (Ireland), the reigning showman of the world golf tour, though spraying his drives a bit, had his irons dialed in with laser accuracy with six birdies in his bogey-free round of 66.

Atop the leader board with Mickelson and Goosen are Jeev M. Singh (India) and Prayad Marksaeng (Thailand).

Jeev has won three times on the European Tour, but not yet in the United States. The 37-year-old golfer comes from a sporting family as his father was the director of sports for the state of Punjab in India.

Back when Jeev started playing golf and later when he turned professional in 1993 the emphasis was on education and becoming a doctor or engineer. Family and friends would say to him: “I know you’re a pro, but what else do you do?” Now golf is the fastest growing sport in India.

Singh credits Doug Sanders, a 20-time winner on the PGA Tour with getting him to the U.S. to play college golf at Abilene Christian University.

Sanders sponsored an international Junior Golf Championship for 20 years and called him from Abilene when he was playing in a tournament at Fairway Oaks in the middle of the night India time.

The result was a full golf scholarship for a kid from India at ACU, which is about 180 miles west of Dallas/Fort Worth and halfway to Midland, Texas. Now he is leading a World Golf Championship.

Prayad Marksaeng, playing in his first WGC-CA, started on No. 10 with a fairly routine first nine holes, with two birdies and then he bogeyed the most difficult hole of the day, No. 18.

Making the turn, he caught fire shooting 6-under 30 on the front side needing only 24 putts for the round. The 43-year-old golfer is a three-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour in 2008 but has yet to win in the United States.

Mickelson needed only eight putts on his back nine. He chipped in for birdies on his last two holes. He matched the third-least number of putts for nine holes in PGA Tour history. Stan Utley needed only six on the front nine in the second round of the 2002 Air Canada Championship.

On the front nine, Phil was in a water hazard on two consecutive holes. On No. 3, he double-bogeyed the hole after hitting into the drink short right of the green. After drowning his tee shot on the 238-yard par-3 fourth hole he chipped in to save par. Then after that, he was off to the races, finishing the round with eight birdies and no bogeys.

Phil, after winning at Riviera CC in the Northern Trust Open, three weeks ago appears to be back and confident as ever.

“I felt going into this tournament that I was playing as well as I ever have as far as I can remember. From 50 yards in, my short game has never been this good and I’ve never driven the ball this long and this straight without the fear of a big miss.”

He re-emphasized the state of his game by saying it again: “I’m telling you, I’ve never hit the ball this long or straight.”

Retief Goosen went to the belly putter at the start of the year and has changed back to the short C-groove YES putter he used to win the 2001 and 2004 U.S. Opens. “The last couple of years, I have not been putting well. That’s why I tried something new at the beginning of the year, and it didn’t work.”

After a second place tie in last year’s WGC-CA finishing one stroke behind champion Geoff Ogilvy Retief is excited with Thursday’s performance. “I’ve done well here in the past. Last year, obviously I had a good chance of maybe winning, but this year I’m off to a good start, and I’ve got something to build on for the next three rounds.”

Padraig Harrington, tied for second place with Nick Watney, Rod Pampling (Australia), and James Kingston (South Africa), changed his plans for a three-week break in the schedule opting to come back to America and play because his game needed it.

“I needed to play some competitive golf. Not having played enough so far, it would have been foolhardy to go into Bay Hill and Houston and then obviously the Masters without feeling like I’ve been on the golf course and being sharp.”

The Masters, the first major of the year, is on everyone’s mind and Harrington has been fielding questions since winning the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills CC back in August 2008.

“The last thing I want to be doing is trying to win the Masters in the second round at the CA Championship.”

Padraig is not getting ahead of himself but is thinking ahead to three big tournaments this year: “(The) Masters being potentially winning my third Major in a row, the (British) Open being my potential of winning three (British Opens) in a row and the PGA (Championship) defending (champion).”

The rest of us are thinking about that fourth chance at Bethpage in the U.S. Open in June. If he wins the Masters can he complete the “Tiger-Slam” and win that fourth major in a row?

Even Rod Pampling, a two-time winner on tour, most recently at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill tournament in 2006 and tied for second with a 66 of his own is thinking about the Masters and the most obvious omission with regards to that tournament.

“Obviously, you want to play all of the majors and it’s the only one an Australian has not won yet, and I enjoy that golf course. It would be nice to win Augusta. If you are not there, you can’t do it. So it’s obviously very important to get into the tournament.”

There was some comedy out there on the Blue Monster today. Henrik Stenson’s tee shot on No. 3 ended up in a hazard on mud bit in decent shape. Having no rain gear in the bag left him no other options.

“I was only wearing two things when I hit the shot, my jocks and my golf glove…that is the only thing that will appear in the picture aside from the golf club…just the way God created me!! Shirt, trousers, socks, shoes, hat, the lot was off!

His female caddy Fanny Sunesson who use to loop for Nick Faldo might have been secretly wishing to see a Full Monty. Stenson at least would be better than the other Monty…Colin Montgomerie. Postscript: Stenson shot a 3-under 69, so saving the shot may lead to victory on Sunday.

Jeev Singh and the other leaders had a good day out on the golf course. “I hit the ball well today and I think it all comes down to putting at the end of the day. I rolled it well, so I’m pretty pleased with a 65 today.”

Tiger Woods, on the other hand, had a different result from a good ball-striking day, full swing that is.

“It was a little bit frustrating on those greens today. I hit so many putts that looked good. I thought I hit my lines and thought I had the right speed, but they just didn’t go in.”

Though frustrated there is optimism for tomorrow’s second round: “I’ll just keep doing the same things. It’s not like I was playing poorly or struggling all the way around. I had my speed on the greens all day.”

There was simplicity in the final assessment for the day by Tiger: “I played well and just didn’t make the putts.”

It’s early, there’s a lot of drama and much more to come. Stay tuned!