Mickelson Hits Trifecta
At the beginning of the back-nine on Saturday at The Masters, the players near the lead knew they had to make a move. Lee Westwood had a four-stroke lead and was looking bulletproof. It was at this time that the man who would come to define the tournament hit shots producing roars so loud that the storied magnolias and azaleas lining the Augusta National grounds began to shake.
Upon hitting a gorgeous second shot into the par-5 13th hole, Phil Mickelson made eye contact with his good friend, Fred Couples, playing in an adjacent group. Couples implored him to get going. Mickelson clearly got the memo, making his eagle putt, and then improbably holing an approach shot for eagle on the following hole, becoming only the third player in Masters history to make back-to-back eagles. He then nearly extended his torrid play on his approach shot on the next hole, tapping in his birdie putt to go from five shots back to one ahead in the span of three holes and providing 45 minutes of the most riveting golf in Masters history.
Fast-forward exactly 18 holes to the 13th on Sunday, the defining shot of the tournament. Having hit his drive into the pine straw, Mickelson faced a defining moment. Leading by one, his ball was positioned between two trees, leaving a gap, albeit a small one, to attempt the kind of risky shot that has come to define Mickelson. In one of the greatest shots in Masters history, Mickelson hit a six-iron from 207 yards over water to within five feet for eagle, securing his third green jacket and fourth major championship.
However, this victory was about so much more than golf to Mickelson. In the past year, his wife and mother were both diagnosed with breast cancer. This was the first tournament in 11 months his wife was able to travel to. After he birdied the 18th hole to put an exclamation point on the tournament, Mickelson provided an image to remember, engaging in a tearful hug with his wife beyond the 18th green, leaving nary a dry eye at the gallery.
Mickelson’s spectacular bogey-free round of 67 to win has truly put him in rarefied air. He joins Jimmy Demaret, Sam Snead, Gary Player, and Nick Faldo with three green jackets. He now only trails Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer, who have four, and Jack Nicklaus with six. Even at 39 years of age, his game shows no signs of fading. He now has four major championships overall and must be thought of as a serious rival to Woods’ supremacy.
Never has the game of golf looked brighter. Its preeminent superstar is back and his main challenger now has significant momentum. After his second-place finish, Lee Westwood has finished in the top three in four of the last eight majors and may prove to be the third wheel in the Mickelson-Woods bonanza. Both sides of the age spectrum showed their vitality this week. 60-year-old ageless wonder Tom Watson was in contention going into the weekend and behind his booming drives, 50-year-old Fred Couples still had a chance to win going into the final nine holes. 16-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero became the youngest player to both compete in and make the cut in The Masters. American golf fans are beginning to have their fears about the post Mickelson and Woods era allayed. 24-year-old Anthony Kim rode a hot putter to a final-round 65 and third-place finish and twenty-somethings Nick Watney and Hunter Mahan both played outstanding on the weekend to finish in the top ten.
Finally, one can’t help but consider the symmetry in this week’s events. The tournament that was dominated by the attention given to Tiger Woods and his return to golf after a long layoff following admissions of infidelity was won by the consummate family man. Sometimes, good guys really do finish first.