AUGUSTA, Ga. — The thicket of trees, shrubs, pine needles and overgrown ivy off the left side of the 10th fairway is not typical of Augusta National Golf Club. It is wild, untamed, free-flowing. Phil Mickelson arrived at the hole, shortly before 5 o’clock Thursday evening trying to get something going in what had been a non-descript round. So he did what most do on this tee box: Pull the driver out of his bag and let ‘er rip.
It was that decision that led to Mickelson into the rare wild patch of foliage.
His ball sailed high and left and into that area.
“I hit a horrific shot on 10 that cost me,” Mickelson would say afterward.
By the end of the hole, he had gone from 1-over to 4-over after carding a triple-bogey. On a day when it seemed no one wanted to hold the lead at The Masters for long, Mickelson had been within striking distance. Well, until he duck-hooked his drive into the wilderness of Augusta National.
The ensuing scene was bizarre.
Upon contact, Mickelson immediately shouted at himself. Television camera tried to follow the flight path of the ball, but with little success. Mickelson instantaneously called for a provisional drive, fearing that his initial first shot may not be able to be located. That proved correct.
Then came the search party.
For the allotted five minutes of time a player has to find a lost ball on the course, Mickelson and caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay moved in and out of spectators in search of his wayward tee shot. Fans with beers in hand stomped through the ivy patch hoping to step on it. Others with plastic bags full of merchandise stood side-by-side with the three-time Masters champion brushing through the pine needles trying to find his missing Callaway ball.
“Throughout the round, I hit three or four shots in spots where I know I can’t miss it,” Mickelson said. “Strategically, made some mistakes. I made some execution mistakes. And then I made a very poor swing on 10.”
A swing so poor that almost an hour after he had rummaged through this area, the two security guards stationed there were still pulling feeble attempts to find the ball. They walked around, kicked over a few pine cones and nudged some bushes. Nothing.
“Maybe tomorrow morning, if it rains, we’ll find it,” one of them said.
Their theory? “Maybe it got stuck in a tree.”
Or maybe a renegade squirrel took it. Or maybe it just got plain lost in the ivy — like so many other balls have over the years. Of course, none of those were ever during the tournament rounds of The Masters.
“People kept pulling balls out of the ivy asking if it was Phil’s,” the other guard said. “Someone thought they found it, but it was a Titleist. Another found a Top-Flite. It’s a shame, we all love Phil. We want to see him do so well.”
In the end, he managed to survive the disastrous seven at the 10th. He birdied three holes down the stretch on the back nine — including the 18th hole — to finish at 2-over for the day. Not great, but considering where his ball was (or wasn’t) on No. 10, enough to be fired up for Friday’s second round.
All he has to do now is erase the memory of the two-dozen-person search party, an errant tee shot and the wild thicket on the 10th hole.
“That’s the furthest thing from my mind,” he said. “I’ve got to get back on trying to make birdies tomorrow and I feel fortunate where I’m in a position where I can get two of the first three (holes) and get right back to even. And I had to fight pretty hard to get that.”
Contributor Brendan Prunty is the golf writer for the Newark Star-Ledger in New Jersey. He can be reached at email@example.com and can be followed at Twitter.com/BrendanPrunty. This is his second Masters tournament.