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At the Masters: Walking the front 9 with Phil
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Before the Herald's Vince Johnson walked 18 with Tiger, he prepped by walking the front 9 with Phil Mickelson. Here's his LIVE blog of thoughts and observations. 

Since the day Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open with a torn ACL, he must have anticipated this day. The workouts, the pain and the suffering must have all been building to this April 9, Thursday at the Masters.

Since the day I was assigned to cover the Masters, I've also anticipated this day. My first thought - to cover the game's greatest player in the game's greatest tournament. My plan - to walk all 18 holes and document my experience throughout his round. I will, but it's Thursday morning, and Tiger's in the second-to-last group, so I'll start with a few holes with Phil, Furyk, and the kid, Camillo Villegas.

Hole 1

- One pimento cheese sandwich down, I start my journey with Phil & Co. I was planning to write times down at the beginning of each of these excerpts, but since cell phones aren't allowed on the course, and I don't own a watch, I guess hole numbers will have to do. Anyway, Phil got the largest opening ovation of the tourney thus far, and promptly launched his shot into the dangerous first bunker.

- I now see half of him as he stands in the bunker, and he hits into another bunker. It's a less than impressive start.

- As he walks, he looks in his "little black book," but I'm guessing he's not looking for a date. (This is going to be harder than I expected. Walking, writing, and dodging crowds isn't ideal.)

- I just almost hit my head on a tree limb.

- Phil puts his bunker shot within 15 feet as a cigar smoker along the ropes puffs toward his face. This would be a good save.

- Fluff, Tiger's old caddie, is now Furyk's caddie. If I were on the tour, he'd be my caddie as well.

- Phil pushes his putt left. Bogey.

Hole 2

- As Phil rips another tee shot into the bunker, I remember that I picked Phil over Villegas on the front 9 in ESPN's 'Streak for the Cash' game. Go Phil!

- Phil's second shot leaves him 175-200 yards from the green in the middle of the fairway. I think I saw that Nick Watney has already eagled this hole today.

- The second green's bottom is shaped like Florida, and the hole is in Tallahassee. Phil hits his third to Jacksonville. Good shot.

- Phil rolls in the birdie and gives the first mini-fist pump of the morning.

Hole 3

- Phil hit a tree. I'm quickly walking and writing while holding a bottled water under my arm. By the way, it's a beautiful day, and there's no place I'd rather be.

- Phil got a pretty nice lie, albeit in the rough. He walks toward the crowd as people quietly compliment his physique. Phil's got to be the Oprah of golf in that since.

- Phil yells "Stop!" as his ball lands, but we're at the Masters, so it doesn't. He's a little chip from the hole.

- The fourth tee is outrageously close to the third green. Phil's group watches Harrington and the previous group play before putting.

- Off the green, Phil's pitch comes up short. Typical par.

Hole 4

- Walking around the fourth tee, I realize that most people just stand and watch. I'd venture to say I'm walking more than anyone right now, but I'm feeling good through three.

- I finally open my water waiting for Harrington to put out. It tastes like a little green jacket (not really).

- Phil hit the par 3 fourth in the middle of the green, leaving a tough first putt but easy two-putt. He seems destined to par.

- Villegas is almost under the grandstand, so he drops right in front of me. There's a HUGE, DEEP bunker between him and hole. He puts it within five feet. Amazing.

- Phil leaves his birdie putt two inches short, while I step in mud walking to five. How is that possible? It hasn't rained all week.

Hole 5

- This is a monsterous par 4, 455 yards, playing uphill with two bunkers protecting the dogleg left.

- Phil takes a water swig, so I do too. Then, he hooks a drive down the right side of the fairway.

- Phil and Furyk talk on their way down the fairway. I can't hear what they're saying. Maybe Phil's saying, "I shouldn't have worn all black." It's getting warmer.

- Phil's second shot goes WAY right, and he looks displeased.

- I get my first hand cramp walking to the fifth green. It's actually in the right hand (I'm left-handed). I'm holding my "Masters press" pad in my right hand.

- WOW! From way right of the green, Phil takes his wedge, pitches it onto the roller-coaster green, and it finds the end of the rainbow. Birdie!

- As the crowd questions who "Fisher" is leading the tournament, I consider "Bobby Fisher," the old chess champion. Could it be? Probably not.

Hole 6

- Whoops. I got stuck on the wrong side of the fairway. Now, I have to watch Sergio's approach to five rather than Mick's tee off at six. That's why this is 'Tiger practice'.

- As I catch up, Phil has hit a good tee shot, and he narrowly misses his birdie putt. Par. Not a bad one to miss.

Hole 7

- I'm standing directly behind Phil on the seventh tee. Furyk is sitting down, Villegas is swinging, and Phil is just standing.

- It's obvious Furyk didn't get the memo. Phil and Villegas are in all black, and Furyk's wearing khaki's and a blue polo.

- Phil blisters his tee shot 1000 yards straight down the fairway. Now, walking to his ball, I think I see 'Andy' from 'The Office'. He looks just like the 'Andy' from the 'Beach Day' episode with his huge-rimmed hat. While pondering whether to ask him, all three players hit the green and have birdie opportunities. 

- All three miss. Pars for all. I ask a man with a watch, who tells me it's 12:35. Since Tiger tees off at 1:52, I can probably make it through nine holes with this group before high-tailing it to replinishment and rehydration.

Hole 8

- Phil rockets another tee shot at the par 5 eighth straight into the bunker. He's very tan, and now I know why.

- I'm not going to lie. I'm slowing down a bit. Twenty more holes seems like a daunting task. These players walk down the fairways while I walk around the world on some of these holes. It's going to happen though. I'm walking all 18 with Tiger or leaving attached to an I.V.

- In the meantime, Phil hits his sand shot farther than I've ever hit a ball in my life.

- Fluff is dragging as well, although he's carrying a set of clubs and wearing a full-length body suit.

- Phil's third and fourth shots receive no claps from the grandstand, so I assume they're not good, but I can't see them because the green is elevated. Nonetheless, he makes his par.

Hole 9

- This is quite odd. The television crew on the ninth hole has the world's largest extension cord stretching across the fairway attached to their camera. Another man is standing next to Furyk holding what appears to be a leaf blower, but what I actually believe is a large, wind protected microphone. Anyway, Phil has launched his tee shot 80 yards past Villegas and 40 yards past Furyk. If he can get to -2, I'm sure he'll be happy with his front nine.

- After a decent second shot lands next to the ninth green, an observer comments, "He's been spending some time in the weight room, I'd say." He's the Oprah of the PGA. I'm telling you.

- Villegas misses his birdie putt to secure my "Streak for the Cash" win. Win streak at 2! Now, it's up to Phil, and he misses his birdie putt an inch left. Par on nine. -1 on the front nine of the first round at the Masters. Now, I get prepared for 18 with Tiger, and I'm know what I'm in for. It's going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it'll be a little tough.