The excitement of the day started with a face-off, and long time rivarly, between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. The two best players in the world were paired together – for the first time in a major championship since ‘97. Before the day even began, we knew the duo would command our attention. Phil began the charge by carding a 6-under-par 30 on the front nine, which was good enough to tie a Masters record. It was like Phil was pulling a “Tiger Comeback.” Too good to be true? Yeah. We knew that Tiger wouldn’t let Phil steal the entire show.
Tiger started his charge with an eagle on the Par 5 8th. The roars, the cheers and the insanity only intensified on the back nine. On the 15th, he gunned for the pin. He had a 15 foot putt for eagle. I held my breath. He missed it by mere centimeters.
On the 16th, he was at 9-under-par, only two shots off the lead. He aimed right at the pin, leaving him with a 5 footer for birdie. We all knew that it was a “gimme” for Tiger. Most importantly, he knew it. He was walking to the hole to pick up the ball before it even dropped. At this point, Tiger was only one shot back of the leaders.
The 17th was the breaking point for Tiger. He knew that he had to birdie the remaining two holes at the very least.
Tiger said, “I hit a good tee shot on 17, but it was just a little off to the right and I didn’t let it come back enough. I was dead from there.”
Similar story on the 18th hole. This time, he knew he had to make eagle to potentially force a play-off. What did he do? He pulled out his Driver again. He pushed it right toward the woods yet again. When he got to his ball, it was clear that he had a tough shot. There was the bunker in front and the trees on the right both blocked a direct opening to the green. He would have to punch-out and slice it just enough to have a chance at reaching the green. What were the odds that he’d hit the green and have a shot at making birdie? Slim to very slim. But, that’s not the bottom line. Tiger knew what he had to do, which was to go for it, and he stuck to his game plan.
And what happened with Phil? Well, he played his final seven holes in typical “Phil” fashion. It was a bit reminiscent of what we saw at the 1996 U.S. Open. That’s right, he choked. I think I can speak for most fans out there that we’ve gotten pretty used to it. Or, we’re simply not sure which Phil is going to show up – It’s like a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde fiasco.
This is why Mickelson is like the “bridesmaid” of golf. After tanking it in the water hazard and making a double-bogey on the 12th, Mickelson had an opportunity to gain it back on the 15th with an eagle, but he didn’t even hit it anywhere near the cup. It was an awful birdie. He proceeded to miss another short birdie putt on the 17th.
Phil said, “Yeah I let the opportunity on #15 slide, and I stopped making putts. I didn’t hit a very good putt on 15, and it was a tentative putt. I didn’t trust my read when i made impact.”
That’s right, Phil. You putted with your purse.
The worst of it was that Phil never gave himself a chance coming down the stretch. He missed short putts that he should have made. I know shoulda, woulda, coulda, but how much do you want to bet that Tiger would have made those putts? Yeah, thought so. They both could have; it’s not a question of ability.
For a while, it was feasible that Tiger and Phil had a shot at winning or forcing a play-off. But, it was too little, too late.
Phil hung in to finish one shot ahead of Tiger at 5-under-par, which was good enough for 5th place.
“It was fun [playing with TIger]…I’m usually on the wrong end of it,” Phil chuckled.
At the same time, Tiger played utterly terrible (for Tiger), yet he still managed to finish T-6th.
“I hit it so bad today warming up,” Woods said. “I was hitting quick hooks, blocks, you name it. I hit it all on the range, and then on the first hole I almost hit it into eight fairway. It’s one of the worst tee shots I’ve ever hit starting out.”
Point being, Tiger doesn’t care about finishing in any place other than first. Yeah, I’ll be the first to say he’s a sore loser with a bad attitude. But, no one can deny that he is by far the most consistent and “clutch” player in the history of golf (and perhaps all of professional sports for that matter). It’s not about Tiger losing though; it’s about how he always gives himself a chance. That’s why he’s so good – and the best in the world.