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Lefty in the lead again, with Tiger closing in
by Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) - Phil Mickelson started making birdies and figured he better not stop, not with so many world-class players taking aim on a Blue Monster that lost its bite Thursday in the Ford Championship at Doral.

Lefty was right. But it wasn't just the marquee names crowding the top of the leaderboard.

Mickelson made 10 birdies, including six on his last eight holes, for an 8-under 64 that gave him a share of the lead with Jose Maria Olazabal, Brian Davis of England and Marco Dawson.

Ninety-seven players in the 144-man field broke par on the Blue Monster, a record for the opening round at Doral. The previous mark was 90 sub-par scores in the first round of 2001.

Tiger Woods did his best to keep pace, making three straight birdies before the turn, settling for pars on the two par 5s on the back nine and making a 15-foot par putt on the last hole for a 65.

Doral has 11 of the top 12 players in the world ranking, one of the strongest fields of the year, and most of them delivered the performance everyone expected.

U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen was at 67, while No. 1 Vijay Singh birdied three of his last four holes for a 68. David Toms, coming off an overwhelming victory in the Match Play Championship, showed he's human with only a 69.

"When I know that the field is so strong, and you've got guys like Tiger and Vijay and Retief and Mike Weir and David Toms, guys who are making a lot of birdies and have the ability to shoot 62 or 63, I find myself pushing to go lower," Mickelson said. "Four or 5 under just isn't going to cut it with those guys in the field."

But they weren't the only ones going low on a cool, overcast day with hardly any wind.

There was a slight breeze out of the north at times, which made the closing holes particularly easy. Mickelson hammered a drive into the front bunker on the 372-yard 16th hole for an easy birdie, then hit another mammoth tee shot that left him only 70 yards from the pin on the 419-yard 17th hole.

From a good lie in the right rough just short of a bunker on the 465-yard 18th, he flipped an 8-iron into 6 feet to close out another strong round.

"The wind was supposed to be early, and we were supposed to have rain in the evening or afternoon," Woods said. "Looks like we escaped all of that, so it was a nice day to post a good number."

No one was surprised that Mickelson had one of the lowest scores.

He had a 60 in the second round at Phoenix when he won for the first time this year. He had a 62 at Spyglass Hill, one of the toughest courses in northern California, on his way to a wire-to-wire victory at Pebble Beach.

Mickelson now is 46 under par his last eight rounds, dating to that 60 in the FBR Open.

But considering the conditions, this round was more ordinary.

"Even though it was a great round and a nice start, the course played much easier than did Spyglass or TPC at Scottsdale," Mickelson said. "This score will not separate myself from the field at all, so I need to go out tomorrow and do the same thing."

Olazabal, the two-time Masters champion playing on sponsor's exemptions because he lost his PGA Tour card last year, made birdies on his final three holes to join Mickelson in the lead, and Davis joined them with an eagle on No. 8 and a string of birdies toward the end of the round.

Davis won Q-school and had the first-round lead at the Nissan Open two weeks ago before it started raining. He wound up one shot out of the playoff when the tournament was shortened to only 36 holes.

"I haven't been here before," Davis said. "We arrived Monday, blowing; Tuesday, blowing; Wednesday it was blowing. I just assumed that's the way it would be all week. Obviously, it was a little bit down today."

That was all Mickelson needed to go long and take it deep.

Even though he hit only six fairways, Mickelson was close enough to the green that he constantly was reaching for the wedge. Five of his 10 birdies came with a sand wedge or a lob wedge.

Woods almost made his share of putts, three of them from the 12-foot range to get on the leaderboard. He played the 16th differently that Mickelson, opting for a 2-iron off the tee that left him a full wedge. That spun back some 25 feet, but he made that for the same score.

Dawson might have had the most impressive round of all. This was his first round since the Honda Classic a year ago because of surgery to repair a ruptured disc.

"I'm still in the learning stages of how much I can practice, how much I should practice, what are the signs of when I start to get fatigued and weak, should I back off," Dawson said.

But he has been around the PGA Tour long enough to realize that his good start was only that - a start. There were 51 rounds in the 60s, and 28 players within four shots of the lead. over luggage moving his daughter into her college dorm, then while bracing himself after he fell walking down a steep slope at Whistling Straits. ... LPGA Hall of Famer Beth Daniel and U.S. Women's Open champion Meg Mallon were at Doral, watching Davis Love III in the morning (75) and the front nine of Tiger Woods in the afternoon. "OK, I'm inspired now," Mallon said.

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