Published August 30, 2013
NORTON, Mass. – Five years later, about the only thing that hasn't changed are the names.
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott are in the same group for the opening two rounds of the Deutsche Bank Championship, starting on the 10th tee Friday morning and then playing before what should be a full house Saturday afternoon at the TPC Boston.
The last time this trio was grouped together, the stakes and the venue could not have been more different. It was the U.S. Open, not a FedEx Cup playoff event. It was along the Pacific coastline of Torrey Pines, not the tree-lined fairways of the TPC Boston.
There were some other differences.
Woods played that 2008 U.S. Open with a shattered left knee and two stress fractures in his leg. Now he has a sore back.
Scott was playing with a broken bone near his right pinkie finger from when a friend slammed his hand in a car door a month earlier. There is nothing broken about him now, not after the Masters champion played a bogey-free round at Liberty National last week to win The Barclays.
Mickelson played Torrey Pines — then the longest course in major championship history — without a driver in his bag.
Now? Well, some things never change.
Mickelson often changes up his bag, though he found a 3-wood that works similar to a driver. It's hard to question the strategy after he won the British Open with a 3-wood off the tee and off the fairway to reach the par-5 17th hole in two, a pivotal moment in his rally at Muirfield.
"And here we are, five years later and very similar standings," Mickelson said Thursday evening. "I love playing with both Adam and Tiger. Adam is a great guy and Tiger brings out the best in me. I think we're going to push each other. I expect all three of us to play very well."
Woods won that U.S. Open for his 14th major, and he hasn't won another major since then. Mickelson finished seven shots behind, Scott was another shot back.
"The buildup to that event was huge," Scott said. "And just to be even the third wheel in that group was really something I'll remember forever. So it might be the same tomorrow. I don't know, but it will be fun no matter what. We're all playing really well this year. So hopefully, we can push each other along and make a lot of birdies, and it will be an enjoyable couple of days."
So who's the third wheel now?
"It would be me again," Scott said with a laugh.
Those three players also are seen as the top candidates as player of the year — Scott and Mickelson both have a major among their two PGA Tour wins (Mickelson picked up another significant win at the Scottish Open), while Woods has five wins and no majors. Woods is still the heavy favorite, though a FedEx Cup title for Scott and Mickelson might change that.
Rory McIlroy is the defending champion, and still looking for his first win this year.
Woods, meanwhile, is at a stage of the season where his vernacular has changed. He used to talk about "reps" and "traj" (trajectory) and "the process." These days, he's using terms related to his treatment like "activation" and "firing sequence" and "protocol."
Attribute that to his latest injury — a bad back, which he said was caused by a soft hotel mattress last week at The Barclays. He also had back pain in the final round of the PGA Championship (he said the injuries are not related), and he suffered from a strain in his left elbow at the U.S. Open, an injury that caused him to miss two tournaments.
When last seen on a golf course, Woods dropped to his knees from a back spasm after hitting a fairway metal into the water on the par-3 13th hole, leading to bogey.
He looked fine, and said as much Thursday during his pro-am at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Woods took full, powerful swings with the driver, and he had no trouble gouging shots from the rough. He stooped over without hesitation to remove his tee from the ground or retrieve his golf ball from the cup.
"The back has been ... it's a lot better than obviously on Sunday," Woods said. "It was nice to have that extra day of rest. Having the tournament start on Friday certainly helps. And I've gotten treatment every day, two to three times a day. And it feels good."
Even before he could hit his first tee shot in the pro-am, one of the amateurs asked him about his back.
The question was inevitable. The answer was predictable.
"It's fine," Woods said.
Woods said he had planned to play nine holes, and then only chip and putt on the back nine as a precaution, just as he did last week at Liberty National.
"But it felt good, so I continued playing," he said.
Woods said the treatment was similar to the strain in his left elbow two months ago — electric stimulation, ice, ultrasound and massage. Still unclear was whether how much he would be able to practice before and after rounds. Woods said that would be "day to day."
"This was the first day I hit balls or swung a club since Sunday," he said. "And it was a pleasant surprise to go out there and play without any discomfort today."