It was the final Day at the masters I think we’d all been waiting for. No one enjoys seeing a Trevor Immelman or a Zach Johnson processing to victory, I’m fairly sure their families would have preferred someone else to win. We want high drama, the big names putting on a show, a nailbiting finish where any one of six might win and this year delivered that in bagfuls. The pairing of Tiger and Phil off out a few groups before the leaders was always going to be intriguing simply because of the love to hate relationship the pair share but the golf the pair produced was nothing short of electrifying. Tiger apparently “had the worst practice session of his life” from his post match interview, a fact Wayne Grady confirmed, telling how he’d never seen the great man hit so many snap hooks. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when his first drive was a good 100 yards off the target line really. But Tiger being Tiger he held it together and scrambled a par there and kept in the mix with a glorious eagle on seven.
Mickelson had no such woes. For once completely uninhibited by the presence of the world number one, he really let loose on the front nine to match the record of 30 shots, six under par for the nine. There was a litany of great shots, he played the sort of golf that you feel he really should play all the time, super aggressive and demanding all of his skill. From a tricky lie, with trees just in his line on six he hit what Peter Alliss called one of the best shots he’d ever seen in his life. I’d concur with that assessment. I love to mock Phil for his flaky nature but on the front nine he truly won me over, I was rooting for him.
It was easy to forget there were two groups coming behind in the early stages, nothing was happening for any of them, - Perry, Cabrera, Campbell, Furyk, all were going backwards or staying where they were. I loved the stat they were showing throughout the day, Tiger and Phil’s combined scoring against the final 2 groups – at the turn it was the dynamic duo of the top two -9 for the day, the final four +1. They were reeling them in hand over fist and a comeback win of an epic scale was on the cards.
Somehow though the air went out of the sails as the big two turned the corner, Phil who had glided along like he was on rollerskates, looked to be wading in treacle for a hole or two. As he stepped on to the 12th tee he had an audible discussion with his caddy Bones over club selection, “It’s a nine iron but we’ll need to just add some to it to get there” said Bones, Phil nodded and went for it. Except he didn;t really go for it and hit it a tad right and the agony that has hit manys a marauding Masters challenger hit Phil square in the face. It was truly gutting and looked to have taken him out of things but he made his bogey. News of Rory Mc’s back nine 30 and Geoff Ogilvy’s five birdies in a row kept alive the hope it still might be on. Another score to be posted was that of John Merrick who got in early at eight under, a great performance from the first timer. He’s lucky not to share the looks of his namesake too...
Perry was the steadiest of Eddies making par after par after par, for a bland scorecard at halfway but one which held the lead. Cabrera had dropped back somewhat, an almighty shank on eight not helping his cause at all.
Meanwhile Phil was racking up the “if only that hadn’t happened” moments on his back nine, a lovely approach on 14 gave him yet another birdie chance but it lipped out, having been halfway in the hole, and he stayed nine under. Tiger’s ball had spun horridly back of the green but he go up and down to stay -8.
They strod on to 15 then knowing they needed to make something happen. Tiger ripped one long, the birdie’s of the first three days not enough for him, he needed eagle. Phil, still playing majestically knocks his past him, unrelenting in just outshining the No.1 all day. The 6 iron approach from Tiger is a delight, around 12 feet for eagle. Phil, once more turning the screw on Tiger in their personal battle hits it to a few feet. Micko’s back in business, Eagle is preparing for landing. Pesky old tiger though has his eagle attempt first, and misses right. Phil tries to learn from this but looks for a lesson that wasn’t there and pushes the tiddler for eagle by the hole left. It’s back to the good old days when Phil was ripping up Augusta to be undine by two footers. Birdies would have to do for the great pair.
Back on 12 one of the oddest occurrences I’ve seen was delivered by the 367th ranked player in the world Todd Hamilton. Only too aware that a top 16 will be required to get back next year, his Masters invites courtesy of being open champ a few years back now spent he was hovering on that line on 5 under when he plopped it in the aqua at 12. Then, from the drop zone, he chucks it high and it catches on the fringe at the far right corner and spins furiously and somehow gathers the backwards momentum to make it all the way to the hole for the unlikeliest of pars. Kudos to Todd, I’m not looking forward to seeing him again next year but I will enjoy that clip every time I see it. It was one of the many shots, most from Phil that will make the final rounds highlights package a particularly stuffed one.
Speaking of shots you won’t tire of seeing, the mandatory playing of “that chip”TM from Tiger on 16, you know, the “IN YOUR LIFE, have you ever seen anything like that” Nike advert one. They showed that and you just wished he would do something amazing again. To do the amazing chip once more he’d have to hit a stinking tee shot first of course but he obviously wasn’t in the mood to muck around and stiffed it to about 3 feet. Phil pars and they’re both now ten under, easily a position to post a good target for those coming behind.
Perry had his pop at repeating Tigers trick of stopping the ball on the lip for the advertisers to get a good look at the logo, but failed to fully execute by making it magically drop into the hole on 11 to make it 11 straight pars to stay 11 under. Nothing was happening for Cabrera and El Pato’s waddle seemed that of a lame duck trudging to 12. From nowhere though he stiffs his nine iron approach (he had enough to get there with a nine, unlike Phil) to a few feet to get himself rolling. Perry from the back of the green got the putt he had been searching for, not a solid four foot par stroke, he’d had about 11 of those already, but a nice long read for birdie. It seemed his year now, surely.
Coming up 17 Tiger and Phil both needed good drives, only one of them got what they were after. Tiger with the look of a man not enjoying himself at all had hit it left and blocked his path with trees. He has no option but to layup and that kisses his chances goodbye really. To rub salt in the wound, Phil from the fairway produces a real gem and has another chance at birdie. Tiger nips his pitch away cleanly but it doesn’t grab and runs well past. Looking defeated and mightily pissed off because of it he can only make bogey. Phil though has his tiddler for a nailed on birdie, except Phil has rediscovered his art of missing the crucial short ones. He pushes it right again, the horror, the horror! He should be 12 under if you conut those two teeny misses, probably 13 under if he’d muscled up more on his nine iron at 12. As it is he stays 10 under and will be ruing those for a while.
Up 18 then and having not had any fun whatsoever on the last all week, Tiger is back to playing in the trees up the right. We’ve seen him there before, and seen him pull off some miracles. Rememeber when he popped it out right, on to the 10th fairway and had us all scratching our heads only to play an unsighted shot with no yardage book for guidance (as strictly one is not meant to do such a thing) and pops it stone dead to take par. On another day when his dander was up, he may have repeated some of that magic, not today. Seeming more mortal than I have ever seen, he tried to thread the needle between two trees, but as would happen to us non golfing gods, he went and tonked it off a tree trunk and was out on that 10th fairway again, but not through design but by ricochet. The heroics of past years were not repeated, he ends up short right and it’s a bogey, bogey finish to Tigers Masters. Still, no one could suggest he’s lost his hunger, that man clearly wants victories, bad, but he has the look of someone trying so damn hard, he’s forgotten to enjoy himself.
Big Phil from the huge white expanse of the fairway bunker up the left tried to hit the Sandy Lyle shot, and for all the world thought he had, skipping out of the bunker to see the result, telling caddie Bones, “I think that I got it” – Bones is less impressed, “It’s short Phil” and so it is. A pitch and two putts and Phil having started as well as anyone ever has in a final round at Augusta , finished rather limply with 37 shots on the back nine. Still, what amazing golf he played and as he pointed out in his post match interview, it’s not too often he gets the best of Tiger but he was very gracious about it. He was also philosophical about the small putts he missed. It was stark contrast to the sour faced Woods, who’s PR has become lapse of late. At least he didn’t say he “putted like a spaz” again...