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Phil, Vijay are walking all over each other

Boswell: By golf standards, this is a big brouhaha

Hold onto your handbags, ladies and gentlemen. There's a hissy fit in Amen Corner.

Vijay Singh says Phil Mickelson wears extra-large spikes, drags his feet on the greens, leaves big cleat marks and does not fix them. In other words, Mickelson is careless and unsporting at best, and perhaps even a deliberate cheater at worst.

Mickelson responds, by news release no less, that Singh is a tattletale gamesman who sicced the officials on him twice in one round, sending a couple of old fuddy-duddies to examine the bottoms of his shoes and distracting him from his game.

For three days of this Masters, Singh has played in the group directly behind Mickelson and for three days he has stewed. And that situation won't change Sunday. With much of the third round of this Masters still to be completed, Singh will be watching Mickelson's tracks when Sunday's play begins, too.

To add to this drawing room drama, worthy of the BBC, both men are on the leader board entering Sunday when, with so many holes left to play, any of the top 10 players could win if leader Chris DiMarco falters.

Golf doesn't have fistfights. It doesn't even have food fights. Nobody gets a concussion from a blitzing linebacker or a fastball to the head. At the Champions Dinner before the Masters here this week, the best players in the world sat at close quarters for hours and said, "Pass the foie gras," not "So's your mama."

So, when it comes to out-in-the-open golf conflict, in the last 25 years there may not have been as tasty a contretemps between two such famous players in the midst of a major championship. In the game of gentlemen, it doesn't get more delicious and precious than a "your-manners-are-worse- than-mine" showdown between the defending Masters champion and the world's top-ranked player.

For context, neither Singh nor Mickelson is widely liked in pro golf locker rooms. Long ago, Singh was thrown off the Asian Tour after being accused of cheating and has always been a chip-on-the-shoulder loner on the PGA Tour. Does Singh carry scars to his aloof psyche from a distant time that no one else in golf cares about?

Despite his enormous and cultivated popularity with galleries, Mickelson sometimes has an Eddie Haskell manner that grates on rival players. Do they simply envy him or do they see through him?

To add to the piquancy, all of the friction between the two was actually summarized by Mickelson in his news release that arrived late Friday evening and was the buzz of Augusta on Saturday.

"On the 13th hole, two officials approached me at two different times. They were sent by Vijay to check my spikes because he felt they were unduly damaging the greens. If that is the case, I am very apologetic and will make every effort to tap down what spike marks I may make in the future," Mickelson's release read. "However, I was extremely disappointed and would have appreciated it if it would have been handled differently or after the round."

Anyone have suggestions on how it could have been "handled differently?" On public courses all over America there is a standard procedures for such situation. You yell at the top of your lungs, "Pick up your feet or I'll brain you with this wedge."

"After sitting in the locker for a while," the Mickelson release continued, "I heard Vijay talking to other players about it."

Oh, that's bad. Vijay talking behind Phil's back. Can't have that.

"And I confronted him," Mickelson continued.

But, from a safe distance, one hopes. Vijay is a pretty big guy.

"He expressed his concerns," wrote Mickelson.

We can only wonder if Singh recalled the time that Mickelson ripped open a bag of potato chips at the Presidents Cup in Washington just as Mike Weir was about to swing. Or perhaps the way the frosty relations between Mickelson and Tiger Woods, when they were paired together, proved disastrous for the U.S. in the last Ryder Cup.

"I expressed my disappointment with the way it was handled," Mickelson went on.

Again, until both have written their memoirs, we are left to wonder whether Mickelson mentioned Singh's recent interview with Bryant Gumbel on HBO's "Real Sports" during which Singh said when asked about Mickelson's clean public image, "Yeah, but is that the true Phil? Is that the true person? Do you see the true side of Phil? I don't know. I can't speak for Phil. But you see the true me. I don't hide things."

In another age, this was cause for dueling pistols at dawn. Or sabers after brunch. Or cannons at three paces by dusk.

Now, well, 'tis a milder time. "I believe everything is fine now," Mickelson concluded.

This, of course, means that nothing is fine. And every detail will be remembered for years.

After the pair had finished their second rounds Saturday, Mickelson said, "I've tried to put it behind me." Picking up his shoe to show the bottom to reporters, he added: "My spikes are pretty worn down today. I tried to be as careful as I could today."

For his part, Singh clearly enjoyed the fuss. After all, his caddie once wore a hat with "Tiger Who?" stitched on the back the day Singh played Woods in a Presidents Cup match.

"Whether it's a problem or not depends on the spikes. It's the length of the spikes that matter," Singh said Saturday after the second round. "There is nothing wrong with telling a person he is spiking up the greens . . . Unfortunately, it was Phil. He did a good job today."

All is forgiven, can't you tell?

Though they may not know it, both men have damaged themselves with this spat. Just as they were being recognized for their great careers, they are in danger of reducing themselves to kindergarten caricatures of themselves. Phil is the kid in school who shot the spitball at the teacher, then pointed at you. And the teacher believed him. Vijay is the boy who tattled to the teacher that it was really Phil who shot the spitball and got everybody detention.

Sunday at the Masters is tough enough. Now, with DiMarco leading for the second straight year entering the final day and Woods climbing to second place, Phil and Vijay have to worry about their footwear fuss.

Heaven help us if they both show up on Magnolia Lane on Sunday wearing the same shirt.