Westwood leads Mickelson by one: It’s an 18-hole sprint at the Masters

April 10, 2010 | Drew Forrester

With 18 holes to play at Augusta National, it’s become Phil Mickelson’s tournament to lose.

Mickelson isn’t the 54-hole leader.  That honor belongs to major-less Englishman Lee Westwood, who led from the outset on Saturday and managed to cling to a one-shot lead with a nifty up and down from the bunker at the 18th hole.

But even though Westwood (-12) leads the 2010 Masters with 18 holes to play, make no mistake about it:  this is now Phil Mickelson’s tournament to lose.

Mickelson (-11) owns two green jackets – three majors overall – and will be the overwhelming fan favorite when he tees it up in the final group on Sunday afternoon.  If Westwood somehow holds on, it will go down as one of the great triumphs in Augusta history, as he’ll not only join the fraternity of major champions, but he’ll hold off one of the game’s greatest players in the process.

I’ve been doubting Westwood all week and all he keeps doing is making birdies and staying in the lead.  But I’ll go ahead and roll the dice one more time and say this:  He’s not winning on Sunday.

This is Mickelson’s tournament to lose and I would be fairly surprised if he doesn’t win on Sunday.

Tiger Woods (-8) and K.J. Choi (-8) will play together for the fourth straight day on Sunday.  For either of them to win, they’d need to put up a 66 and hope Westwood’s best is a 71…and that Mickelson doesn’t put up a 68, 69, etc.

With the four par 5’s basically playing like hard par 4’s, par at Augusta is no longer 72…it’s more like 69.5.  And that means most of the leaders are going to post AT LEAST 70, if not a stroke or two lower.  And when you do the math, that means guys who are four or five shots off the pace have to put together the “round of lifetime” and hope the leaders stumble a bit.

I know Woods is a great player and owns 14 major titles, but even this kind of deficit is almost out of his reach.  Notice, though, the inclusion of the word “almost” in that previous sentence.  The key to Tiger’s Sunday round will be to make birdies on some of the holes that AREN’T par 5’s on the front nine.  If Woods goes to #10 within a shot or two of the league, anything can happen on the back nine.  In the “old days”, before they extended the back nine holes and added a shot or two to the scoring average, the phrase was “the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday”.  Well, it’s not really like that anymore.  In fact, Zach Johnson won in 2007 and never once went for a par-5 green in two.  If Woods (or Choi) heads to the #10 within a shot or two, they’re alive.  If they put together a pedestrian front nine and still trail by four heading for home, it’s all but over.

The gang at -7 (Couples) and -6 (Poulter, Barnes and Mahan) need a miracle of their own and a near-collapse from both Mickelson and Westwood.

It should be an awesome final round on Sunday, as the drama includes a guy trying to reach golf’s holy grail, plus three Americans all at different stages of their respective careers.  Any of those three would make for a great story if it turns out they slip on the green jacket on Sunday around 7pm.

The way I see it, though, the tournament is now set up for a Phil Mickelson triumph.

You can count on this:  Mickelson thinks it’s his tournament to win (or lose) too.