The realist in me says that Phil Mickelson coulda won the 09 Masters.
The optimist suggests that he shoulda won. You could even make an argument that Phil woulda won his 3rd green jacket had it not been for 1 pull and 2 pushes.
Angel Cabrera defeated Kenny Perry on the second hole of sudden death to claim his second major victory. Chad Campbell, also in the overtime threesome, was done after the first hole. Shingo Katayama finished strong to claim fourth while Phil Mickelson rounded out the top 5.
Coming off a blistering 30 on the front side, and having negotiated 10 and 11 bogey free, Phil stood on the 12th tee with victory firmly in sight. He had just watched Tiger knock his ball some 18 feet from the pin and now the pressure was back in Phil’s court. The stage was set, but the hole didn’t cooperate. Swirling winds brought not only a cooling breeze, but just a hint of doubt into Phil’s shot. Should I go with 8? Should I stand on a nine iron? Phil chose the 9, pulled it fat onto the bank above Rae’s Creek and watched it dribble lamely into the water. After his third from the drop-zone and two putts, things looked decidedly different for Phil. Before the shot it appeared a strong possibility that Phil shoulda and woulda won the title. Post shot, he still coulda.
After birdieing 13 Phil was still in it, trailing Kenny Perry by only 2 shots. A sweet 7-iron to the 15th left him 4 feet for eagle, one that would vault him to the top of the leaderboard. But he meekly pushed the putt to the right (clearly influenced by Tiger’s eagle attempt that stayed above the hole), settling for a disappointing birdie. A similar putt on 17, his last chance to apply some serious pressure, was pushed all the way. It never had a chance, and a bogey on 18 seemed a fitting climax to a great, but aborted charge.
If there is to be any positive note to this charge, it happened while paired with Tiger Woods. Bettering him by a stroke over the final round, Phil never seemed concerned with Tiger, only with his own game. It did not appear as if he rented out any space in his head to Mr. Woods, as has seemed the case in past pairings (and while teamed together in 2004 Oakland Hills Ryder Cup).
Interestingly, a trend seems to have developed in Phil’s game. At Riviera, Phil sandwiched a 63 and a 62 between two forgettable rounds of 72 (one over par). At the WGC-CA Championship, he looked poised to lap the field with opening rounds of 65 and 66. He closed with decent 69’s, but struggled to beat Nick Watney over the final round. At this years Masters, Phil threw in a great back nine on Friday to get back into the tournament, and an incredible 30 on the front nine (matched by only 3 other players in tournament play) Sunday to make a realistic run at victory. Add all that up and it looks like Phil is having a difficult time stringing 4 solid rounds together. Lest we all forget though, Phil is already a 2-time winner on tour this year and has a top 5 in the first major. When your game is this good, you have to nitpick to find flaws.
While Jim Nance, David Feherty, Nick Faldo and the rest of the CBS broadcasting team hinted that this years’ Masters approached the drama of the ‘86 tournament, for me it lacked the magical finish. If not for one pull and two pushes it may have been very different.
Now we can sit back and wait for the U.S. Open, this year being played on one of the most famous public coursed in the states, the black course at Bethpage. Mickelson finished second to Tiger’s first in the 2002 version of the open, the first time the tournament was held at Bethpage. Wouldn’t it be great to see these two warriors in contention on Sunday, maybe even paired together in what undoubtedly would be another thrilling rollercoaster of a golf ride?