LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Typically, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson play together only when their scores demand a weekend pairing.
Thursday's early tee time with 2008 PGA champion Padraig Harrington marked only the 32nd time Woods and Mickelson have played together on the PGA Tour. And the tone for their scrambling rounds -- which left Mickelson at 2-under 69 and Woods with a disappointing 3-over 74 -- was set on their first hole, the par-5 10th.
Mickelson struck a drive so far left, it left him speechless and almost displaced any early-arriving corporate tent patrons.
"Horrific," Mickelson said.
After a signature Mickelson recovery shot over the trees and a long, lovely lag putt, he tapped in for par. Woods, meanwhile, reacted angrily to leaving his birdie putt just short.
"I never got a putt to the hole," Woods lamented of a round that required 30 strokes on the greens.
Mickelson did, posting two of his five birdies on his final three holes to resurrect a round that sat at 2 over through eight.
"I wasn't worried," Mickelson said. "My game finally has kind of come together, and the confidence just needs to slowly come with it."
Woods said his surgically repaired back, which kept his participation in doubt until Wednesday, felt "a little bit stiff," and he skipped his typical post-round practice-range session for treatment. It got tested on the par-5 18th, where his tee shot landed in a fairway bunker and created an awkward stance.
Woods, who hit 8 of 14 fairways, also sprayed three tee shots on his final nine holes, including one into a hazard on No. 2 that led to a bogey. His only birdie came when he chipped in at No. 16.
"He played with a lot of heart," Mickelson said. "It's not easy, when your game isn't where you want it and you're hitting shots that you don't normally hit, to fight hard."
Rickie Fowler fired a 2-under 69 to continue his impressive run at this season's major championships. He is the only golfer to own top-five finishes in the Masters and U.S. and British opens.
"This year is definitely the most comfortable I've felt in the majors," Fowler said. "I'm confident."
Overlook Jim Furyk at your own peril. The veteran just keeps grinding away.
"I was plugging along, having a good day, playing a patient round, and lo and behold, it was a nice finish," Furyk said.
Last year's runner-up to Jason Dufner closed with three straight birdies to sit at 5-under 66, one shot off the leaders. That included a 25-footer on his final hole, the par-4 ninth.
"I've had a pretty solid year," Furyk said.
Matt Kuchar, ranked sixth in the world, withdrew because of back spasms. Alternate John Huh replaced him. ... Former world No. 1 and Northwestern alumnus Luke Donald sat one off the lead through 13 holes but played the final five in 4 over to finish at 1-under 71.
(c)2014 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services