It was perhaps the most anticipated Masters tournament in modern history and we were not disappointed.
The grand old lady that is Augusta National was never more beautiful. Beauty, however can beguile even the most seasoned warrior. It was a perfect desert sky at night and all the stars came out to play.
Thursday’s opening round saw ageless, Tom Watson tied for the lead with a superb 5 under par 67 and had us thinking about Turnberry in 2009. Watson would run out of steam over the next three days and end up in a tie for 18th at one under par, but it was still a remarkable performance for the 60 year old legend.
Fred Couples had so many of us hoping that he would turn back the hands of time and become the oldest winner in Masters history. Couples played a brilliant front 9 on Sunday shooting 3 under par. Had his putter co-operated he would have been 6 under (he missed three putts inside of six feet) but nobody was swinging the club better than the 50 year old Couples who consistently hit his tee shots further than all the young guns.
Couples was two shots out of the lead after making par on the tenth hole but then made a careless bogey on the 11th hole. When Couples won his green jacket in 1992, he hit his tee shot on the short par 3 twelfth hole onto the front bank of the green. Anytime a player does that the ball will always roll back into Rae’s Creek, which guards this devilish short hole. Famously on that occasion his ball stayed dry and Fred went on to win the tournament. This year, he was not so fortunate and in one of those ironic moments that Augusta so regularly produces, his tee shot on the 12th. hit the bank and rolled back down into the water. Golf.
And then there was the return of Tiger Woods after his six month hiatus from competition. Woods clearly did not have his “A game” but it is a testament to his enormous skills as a golfer, that he started the final day in third place only four shots behind Westwood. Plagued by erratic driving and a sometimes uncooperative putter, Woods was on the periphery of contention but never was able to fire on all cylinders.
Woods tied a Masters record by making four eagles in the tournament but made many more unforced errors than he normally would. His front 9 on Sunday was proof of his rustiness as he bogeyed 3 of his first 6 holes before holing his second shot on the par 4 7th hole for eagle and following that up with a birdie at 8 to give a glimmer of a “Tiger charge” but he could not sustain the momentum and finished with a 69 and tied for 4th at 11 under. After such a long time away from competition, not to mention having to deal with his personal issues, the fact that he played as well as he did, is a tribute to his prodigious talent.
The biggest Sunday charge came for 24 year old Anthony Kim. Kim has really begun to turn his game around and has already won on Tour this year (he now has 3 Tour wins), but seems so perfectly suited to Augusta. Kim played inspired golf on Sunday and shot the low round of the day, a flawless 65. History will say that he finished in third place at 12 under par but he was never really a threat to win. His time however will most certainly come.
Lee Westwood has had his share of heartbreaks in Majors but Europe’s top player seemed finally poised to win his first. Tied for the lead after the first and second days and the outright leader after the third round, Westwood played the steadiest golf of the tournament. Westwood is an old fashioned ‘grinder’ who keeps plugging away, rarely making a big mistake. His nemesis has always been short putts and he missed two very short ones on the back 9 on Sunday that were ultimately his undoing. He has now had 4 top 3 finishes in his last 7 Majors, so one must imagine that will be only a matter of time before he finally breaks through.
One had the feeling though that this was Phil Mickelson’s tournament to win. Throughout the week, Lefty had played his best golf in a long time. He has an unabashed love affair with Augusta and it certainly suits his game better than any other Major championship venue. Augusta rewards those with the best short games and no-one is better around the greens than Mickelson. Wayward tee shots, which are his weakness, are not nearly as severely punished as other courses which is just as well because Mickelson hit some tee shots into different area codes.
Mickelson scrambled and hit recovery shots that no other golfer is capable of. He also hit some breathtaking iron shots and was only the third player in Masters’ history to make back to back eagles on the 13th and 14th holes on Saturday. After making a birdie on 15, Mickelson had played these three holes in 5 under par and evaporated Lee Westwood’s, 5 shot lead. It was then, that you had the feeling that it was his week.
Mickelson was accompanied this week by all of his family. It was the first time in almost a year that his family had come to a tournament with him as his wife Amy has battled cancer. You could almost see a more joyful and relaxed Mickelson as he made his way around the azaleas and dogwoods.
After hooking another drive off the tee on the thirteenth hole, Mickelson produced another one of those, “Phil the Thrill” shots. From 205 yards away and directly behind a tree, Mickelson hit an incredible shot that landed only barely over the creek and three feet from the hole. It will become a shot that will be revered in the annals of Augusta. Although he missed the eagle putt, his birdie gave him a two shot lead over the gritty Westwood.
A birdie on 15 and steady pars on 16 and 17 a closing birdie on the last hole, gave Mickelson a three shot victory over Westwood who had played with such courage all day.
Mickelson now enters the ranks of all-time pantheons of Augusta lore. Three time winners of the Masters include Nicklaus, Palmer, Snead, Demaret, Player and Faldo. Lefty can now takes his place with these legends.