WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE TIGER & PHIL?

So I’m going to see Tiger and Phil. Playing together. That’s like Elvis and Mick sharing the mike. Tiger and Phil? Together? Against Colin and Padraig? And, here’s the best part. I’m walking to the job.

I have never walked to the job, not in 20-plus years in this business. But the Ryder Cup, at Oakland Hills Country Club, is just up the road from my home. I breathe the healthy bus fumes as I approach the entrance. “Ahhh, like the old country,” I think, as I approach the security gate, “walking to work. Isn’t it grand? Isn’t it–“

“You can’t bring that in,” the guard says.

He is pointing to an Atkins bar.

“Why not?” I say.

“It’s not a Pepsi product,” he says.

“But it’s my breakfast.”

He shrugs. “It’s not Pepsi.”

“Well, what does Pepsi make for breakfast?”

Another shrug. “I dunno. But if it ain’t Pepsi, you got to check it at that table over there.”

I trudge to the table. I fill out a claim check. I write my name. I write “Atkins bar.” I hand it over. They give me a yellow receipt. I am not making this up.

But I will not be deterred.

“Where’s Tiger and Phil?” I ask the first person I see. “It’s like seeing Elton and Billy. Tiger and Phil. Against Colin and Padraig. Where are they?”

“They already started,” the guy says. “Out there.”

He points to the massive South Course, which is now swarmed by spectators the way a discarded Popsicle is swarmed by ants.

I start the long walk. I hit a rope. A huge crowd. Another rope. Another crowd. More rope. Finally, desperate to reach Phil and Tiger, who, let’s face it, are Pacino and DeNiro, I stop a cart.

“Could you guys give me a lift?”

“We’re the grounds crew,” the driver says.

“Oh,” I say.

“But if you want to sit on the hood here, we’ll take you.”

What’s a man to do?

For the Love of …

I sit on the hood, facing the driver and his co-worker as they bounce me along the path.

“H-h-how earr-r-rly did yo-o–ou get h-eere?”

“Four a.m.” the driver says. “Had to make the holes.”

“You m-m-make the holes? On the greens?”

“Uh-huh. We use this.” He reaches behind him for a long metal contraption. “This is Jeff and I’m Tim,” he says.

He offers his hand. I reach for it.

I nearly fall off the hood.

“Oops,” he says.

Jeff and Tim drop me at the third hole. The crowd is like Woodstock, only it smells better. I wave good-bye. Just as I turn, people are running and pointing and yelling, “Look out! Here it comes!”

I, of course, am thinking Hurricane Ivan has found its way to Michigan. Suddenly a ball lands two feet from me, in the thick grass. A crowd forms around it, as if it were a meteor.

“What luck,” I say to myself. “Phil or Tiger will be here any minute.”

I wait two minutes. Four minutes. Finally, the crowd parts. And here comes …

Davis Love III.

He mumbles something to his caddie that sounds like nuclear codes. “Twenty-three high, 38 low.”

“Twenty-three,” the caddie says. “Eighteen in, 28 high, 23.”

Davis nods. He swings and he’s gone.

“Tiger and Phil?” I say to a volunteer.

“Over there,” he says, pointing.

The crowd is even deeper. I see bodies moving on the fairway. It could be Tiger and Phil. Then again, it could be Danny DeVito and Bob Hoskins. I can’t see any heads.

I do see Joe Dumars, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations.

“Have you seen Tiger and Phil?” I ask.

“I think they’re on this hole,” he says. “But I’m not sure.”

We wait for a while. We stare. The wind blows. Nothing happens.

“Mitchell …” Dumars finally says. “Why do people come out to watch golf?”

A difficult day

So, we cut to the chase. I finally connect with Tiger and Phil — only they are playing more like Sonny and Cher. They fall behind the European team of Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie, who are doing what top-ranked golfers are supposed to do — make big putts. Even a few, uh, birdies. Meanwhile, our guys are blowing in the wind.

This does not stop fans from chanting “U-S-A!” and “Yeah, Tiger, go, Tiger!” Of course, for all they know, they are yelling it at Stewart Cink. You can’t see anything.

Phil and Tiger fall one behind, two behind, three behind. Darkness looms.

On their last chance, on the 17th, Phil misses the green and lands in the rough. Tiger lands in a bunker. Colin Montgomerie sinks an 18-inch putt and the “U.S. Dream Team,” as the Brits call it, is defeated.

“We played well, we just didn’t make enough birdies,” Tiger says afterward.

Then again, playing well means you’re making birdies, doesn’t it?

Ah, well. There is always the afternoon. Tiger and Phil, paired together again, come out like Superman and Batman. They take a one-point lead, then two, then three …

Then two, then one, then even.

Then minus-one.

Then, on the 18th, Phil hits a tee shot halfway to Dearborn. Only a fence keeps it on the grounds, which is a good thing, since it would have to pass security on the way back in.

The next shot, for Tiger, is damn near impossible. Meanwhile, their opponents — Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood — make their shots easily. Clarke and Westwood? What is that? A country duet? Europe wins again.

Tiger and Phil are Siegfried and Roy.

“When you put two superstars together, there’s either good karma or bad karma,” U.S. captain Hal Sutton sighs when it is over. “They went south.”

Ah! South! If only someone had given me directions!

So it was a depressing day for U.S. golf fans — a record first-day deficit for Ryder Cups, 6 1/2 to 1 1/2 — and it was not exactly the shining hour for Tiger and Phil, who no doubt feel like Lenny and Squiggy. But fear not. There are two days left. More golf to be played. The Europeans always jump out early. All that espresso.

As I leave the course and walk up the street, I hear a voice behind me, yelling. The security guard.

“Hey! Ain’t you gonna claim your Atkins bar?”

“Tomorrow,” I yell back.

Like Tiger and Phil, I shall return.

EUROPE…….6 1/2 U.S.A……….11/2

What happened: The United States got smoked on the first day of the 35th Ryder Cup. Europe has never had such a big lead after Day 1.

Why it happened: The U.S. won only one match — courtesy of rookie Chris DiMarco and 50-year-old Jay Haas — and the glamour pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson lost both its matches.

WhatÂ’s next: Eight team matches will be contested today and 12 singles matches Sunday. Coverage starts on NBC (Channel 4 in Detroit) at 8 this morning.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com”

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