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Tiger and Phil come away with hard feelings

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – There's a blue wooden lectern tucked behind the clubhouse at the Atlanta Athletic Club where the breeze can't reach it, making the spot just a little warmer than your average August afternoon in Hotlanta.

It's where players are brought to review their rounds in the PGA Championship, sharing with their friends in the media the details of their day and their thoughts on what it all means. All it's missing is a solitary light bulb to give it an interrogation room feel with crepe myrtles in the background.

In the space of 15 minutes early Thursday afternoon, Tiger Woods tried to grind what was left of the lectern into sawdust after Phil Mickelson had -- with that famous Mickelson smile on his face -- taken a chain saw to course designer Rees Jones in the same spot.

Mickelson was generally pleased with his 1-over par 71 in the opening round, which looked fine unless you compared it to the 63 Steve Stricker posted. A decade ago Mickelson finished second to David Toms in the PGA Championship here, so it's not like he doesn't have some good vibes once he gets out of the suburban Atlanta traffic.

Mickelson went so far as to call it "a great site for the PGA" before standing up for the 12-handicapper, citing the four par-3 holes, which average 217 yards in length, as threats to the game.

"It's a perfect example of how modern architecture is killing the game because these holes are unplayable for the member," Mickelson said.

"For us out here, it doesn't make a bit of difference because we are going to fly the ball to the green either way. That's why I say it's great for the championship. But it's a good reason why the number of rounds are down on this golf course among the membership. This is a great example again of how modern architecture is killing the participation of the sport because the average guy can't play it."

Mickelson didn't name Jones directly -- he referred him as "the guy that redid this one" -- but it wasn't necessary. Jones and Mickelson won't be consulting on any design projects together. Jones like big greens with multiple tiers, deep bunkers and bogeys.

Mickelson likes the Highlands Course at AAC the way it was 10 years ago.

"It was a fun, great golf course and what this is, is a long golf course," he said. "It's not fun. It's not great. It's not exciting. There's no intimacy. It's just long and hard and that's what it is."

When Mickelson was finished, it was Tiger's turn to talk.

With the sleeves pulled up on his raspberry-colored shirt and sweat beading on his arms, Woods was asked to explain how he went from being 3-under par through five holes to shooting 77, his highest first-round score in a major championship.

As he talked, Woods had one hand on each side of the lectern, gripping it like like a man trying to open a pickle jar.

"It showed where I need to improve," Woods said, looking from beneath the brim of his white cap. "I got off to a great start today, was 3-under early, was having mechanical thoughts through those holes and...I thought, 'I can let it go' and play by instinct and feel.

"And, it just screwed up my whole round. I'm not at that point where I can do that yet."

Woods golf game is like the Atlanta road system -- seemingly always under construction. Because of all that's happened over the past 20 months, we're forced to rely on video to see vintage Tiger. But for an hour or so Thursday morning, while the dew was still evaporating, Tiger was back.

He made three birdies in his first six holes and stood on the tee of the par-3 15th hole (241 yards with the tees moved up) having a share of the lead. Woods intended to hit a hard 4-iron down the hill, keeping it left of the water guarding the green. Instead, he splashed his tee shot in the pond and made a double bogey to start a wickedly tough four-hole stretch.

Woods drove it in a fairway bunker at the par-4 15th, chunked his third into another bunker and escaped with a bogey. After a routine par at the 17th, Woods wiped another tee shot into a fairway bunker at No. 18 where all he could do was blast his ball back into the fairway, which he did in a hurry.

Facing a third shot of more than 200 yards over water to the par-4 green, Woods pulled his shot so far left that a spectator shouted, "Oh my God! What is that?" as the ball reached its apex. Another double and Woods had turned 32 into 37. It only got worse.

Woods had surrendered mechanics for feel and wound up feeling miserable.

"I'm feeling good and (I) just let it go and it cost me the whole round," Woods said.

"That's frustrating because I'm in a major championship, it's time to score, time to play and time to let it go. And it cost me the round."

For a man often criticized for his stoicism, Woods vented. It was, in an odd way, good to see.

Barring something spectacular in the second round, Woods will miss the cut and be done for the year on the PGA Tour unless he plays a fall series event. He won't qualify for the playoffs, having already said he won't play Greensboro next week in what would be his last chance to make the playoffs. Another season lost.

"I'm not down. I'm really angry right now," Woods said. "There's a lot of words I could use beyond that."

Then he pried his hands off the lectern and walked away.

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