Woods, Mickelson to Face Off at U.S. Open

Tigers Woods and Phil Mickelson are in the spotlight at the U.S Open golf championship in New York, but it's Michael Campbell who will be defending the title he won last year at Pinehurst. Steve Inskeep talks to sports commentator John Feinstein.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The U.S. Open Golf Championship begins this morning at the Winged Foot Golf Club outside New York City. Pop Quiz: the defending champion is? Michael Campbell.

Commentator John Feinstein joins us now. John, good morning.

Mr. JOHN FEINSTEIN (Sports Commentator; Author “A Good Walk Spoiled”): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: No disrespect to Michael Campbell, but he's overshadowed, it seems, by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, that's not that surprising, especially under the circumstances. Campbell did have a remarkable victory last year at Pinehurst, but since the Masters in April, Tiger and Phil have again emerged as the big stories in golf.

Mickelson won the Masters, his second straight major, which means people are talking that if he can win here he'll be three-quarters of the way to a Mickel-slam, which would be four straight majors, though not in the same calendar year.

And, of course, Tiger lost his dad, Earl Woods, in early May, to cancer. He has not played in a tournament since the Masters. This will be his first time in competition in nine weeks - the longest he's gone since he turned professional. So, needless to say, as the top two players in the world, they are the focus starting out here.

INSKEEP: Has Tiger Woods seemed to give you any indication of how he's feeling being back on the course now?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: I think he feels great to be back on the golf course. He said the other day that it was sweet to be back. I think, whenever you deal with this kind of tragedy, you want to get back to doing what you do. And golf is what Tiger does, and it's what gives him joy; it's what he's best at. And I think being in the heat of competition is cathartic for him. And obviously his dad will be on his mind, especially should he be on the leader board on Sunday, which is Father's Day.

INSKEEP: What's the history of the golf course, Winged Foot?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: It goes way back. The first U.S. Open was played here in 1929. It was won by Bobby Jones in a 36-hole playoff on his 26th birthday. This will be the fifth Open staged here. There was also a PGA here back in 1997.

And it's most famous for the 1974 Open, when the U.S. Golf Association had the greens rolling so fast that Hale Irwin's winning score was seven over par. It's known in history as the Massacre at Winged Foot.

We won't see a winning score that high this year, but the golf course is very difficult.

INSKEEP: Are you disappointed that Michelle Wie will not be there?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, it certainly would have been a media circus had she been here. And she played very respectably in the qualifier last week in New Jersey. She missed by five shots. She was in the middle of the pack, but she certainly didn't embarrass herself as a 16-year-old kid. And there are a lot of people who think, down the road, she will qualify for a men's U.S. Open, and that will obviously be historic, should she do so.

INSKEEP: Now, John, once the play is over for the day, I imagine you might be retiring to the television set. The NBA finals continue tonight. Dallas still up two games to one, but the momentum seems to be going the other way.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Yeah, the Mavericks had a chance to really put them away the other night with that 14-point lead. And everybody talks about Shaquille O'Neal, but Dwayne Wade was the guy who saved the Heat on Tuesday night. And they'll be looking for him again. He's got a little bit of a sprained ankle.

They have to win this game playing at home, Steve, or Dallas goes home with a three-one lead and could - should wrap up their first NBA title. So this is obviously the swing game for both teams.

INSKEEP: And how healthy are these teams?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, they're both exhausted. I'm mean, it's late June; they've been playing these playoffs for - it feels like about seven years now, certainly to them. Traveling and banging on each other in the games, they're so physical, so nobody is 100 percent at this point. And Wade's ankle, though, is a key.

INSKEEP: Okay, Dallas against Miami, game four tonight. John, thanks very much.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Okay, Steve. Thank you.

INSKEEP: The comments of John Feinstein, author of A Good Walk Spoiled.

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