Years from now, long after he’s competitive at Augusta, people will look back on this 2010 Masters tournament and appreciate the virtuoso performance from Phil Mickelson.
I didn’t hear the announcers say it, but Phil’s tournament victory at -16 is, to me, anyway, just as impressive as Tiger’s -18 score back in 1997.
Sixteen under-par at that layout, now, having been “Tiger proofed” in the mid 2000’s…that’s some serious golf ability on display. And Mickelson, although he trails Woods by 10 majors in his career, is better than Tiger right now. That’s not a low blow…it’s a fact.
As for Woods, I found his performance to be of near-heroic status based on what he faced at the beginning of the week. He didn’t play well enough to win. But he battled like a champion and seemingly put the distractions behind him long enough to always at least be considered a threat. The old Tiger put CBS’s Peter Kostis on his “do not discuss” list about five years ago after Kostis made a disparaging remark about Woods’ swing during a slo-motion swing-replay. The new Tiger was gracious in defeat, gave an honest assessment of his game (“didn’t play well enough”) and even did three minutes WITH Kostis afterwards. The thaw was very evident all week, as Tiger seemed more generous with the fans and the media. He let a few bad words slip now and again, but that’s tournament golf.
Mickelson’s performance on Saturday and Sunday is likely to be chronicled as one of the best 36 hole-stretches in major championship history. It included back to back eagles on Saturday and several heartstopping shots on Sunday, plus birdies at 12, 13 and 15 that put the tournament away.
Lee Westwood acquitted himself well all week, but in the end he just didn’t have the shotmaking ability necessary to take advantage of the par 5’s. And his putter, while cooperative, couldn’t produce magic the way Mickelson’s did on 12 when he rolled in a 20-footer to take the lead.
As I noted in Saturday night’s blog, this was Phil’s tournament to lose on Sunday, even though he trailed by one going into the round. The Masters is as much about knowing the course as it is hitting the ball in the middle of the clubface every single shot. And Phil knows where to hit it, where not to hit it and he can putt the greens as good as anyone alive.
He won’t finish his career with three green jackets, you can bet on that.
Interestingly – and not discussed at all because, well, it’s only April – Mickelson is a guy who could DEFINITELY threaten to win the grand slam in 2010. He has played very well at Pebble Beach (U.S. Open site) in regular TOUR events and the British Open venue (St. Andrews) should be very favorable for him as well. The PGA visits Whistling Straits (Wisconsin) in August. And with only one previous major there, no player in particular will have an advantage heading into the fourth and final major of the year.
Woods will be heard from in 2010. If his play at Augusta is any indication, he’ll be able to separate the mammoth witch hunt on his personal life from the quest to get the ball in the hole in fewer strokes than everyone else. Unless something else comes up in the next month or two – and that’s certainly possible – that creates a public stir, Tiger should be nearly back-to-normal by the time the U.S. Open rolls around in mid-June.
For now, though, Phil Mickelson is the king. His play at Augusta over the last four days should go down as one of the most remarkable performances in Masters history.
If nothing else, the Mickelson victory and the Tiger comeback story will keep golf on the front page throughout the summer.