Phil and Tiger- a tale of two masters
Mickelson proves he’s a class act while Woods shows the game is still there but the magic is gone forever says Karl MacGinty
IT will be remembered forever in US Masters folklore for one glorious shot, the warmest embrace and a sprinkling of tears on the cheek of a champion.
Phil Mickelson is a class act and his victory at Augusta National on Sunday helped golf get back in touch with its soul after the seamiest scandal in the sport's history.
If Mickelson's defiance on the golf course, exemplified by that one unforgettable shot out of the pine straw and adversity at 13, was uplifting, few images in sport this year have been as moving as the Californian's heartfelt embrace with his wife Amy.
Since her diagnosis with breast cancer last May, they both have fought the ravages of this disease and, while the long-term prognosis is good, the medication has taken its toll on Amy.
Mickelson didn't know if she'd be able to make it to the golf course on Sunday and he didn't see her there until after he'd sunk the birdie putt on 18 which made his bogey-free final round 67 complete and sealed a three-stroke victory over Lee Westwood.
"I can't put into words how good it was to have Amy and the kids there to share it with," said Mickelson. "It just felt incredible, especially given all we've been through for the last year.
"I don't normally shed tears over wins, but when Amy and I hugged, that was a very emotional moment for us and something I'll look back on and cherish."
The tears actually began falling a couple of hours earlier at the home Mickelson had rented in Augusta. Feeling too weak to go to the golf course, his wife had decided to watch the final round unfold on TV.
"I've been trying to stay at the house and rest so that I wouldn't get sick," she explained.
"If I'd come out here, it probably would have been too much. I wanted Phil to focus on winning the Masters this week -- and not worry if I was sick or out here walking and wasn't doing well.
"I had my blanket and my jammies on and I was ready to watch every shot," she said, revealing she cried from the moment she saw her husband make that 20-foot putt for birdie and the lead (by two strokes) for the first time at the tournament.
"That's when I saw him take control," she added, explaining she watched her husband play 13 before gathering up the kids and heading for the golf course with her mother and Jen Mackay, wife of his caddie and close friend Bones.
She instinctively knew her man wouldn't lay-up when his ball landed behind a tree in the copse of pines to the right of the 13th fairway. Together nearly 20 years, she explained his body language was clear.
"He was going for it and I like that in him," she said with a smile.
So do millions of golf fans. Mickelson has never backed off a challenge in his career and it has cost him dearly on many occasions.
On Sunday he clinched his third Green Jacket and fourth Major victory -- but six runner-up finishes and another half-dozen third places in Majors support the theory that with a little more discretion, Mickelson would have won many more.
The moment he looked at the lie of his ball in the pine straw at 13, Mickelson said: "I'm going for it."
There was an audible gasp in Augusta's vast media centre, followed by howls of appreciation (from the neutral press!) as his ball flew 207 yards and rolled to a halt four feet from the pin.
Inexplicably, Mickelson would miss the eagle putt, but nothing could take away from a six-iron shot which Westwood's caddie Billy Foster described as "one of the best I've ever seen".
Yet the man who struck it tried to play it down. "I had a good lie in the pine needles. I was going to have to go through the gap if I laid up or went for the green and was going to have to hit a decent shot anyway," he explained.
"The gap was a little bit wider than it might have looked on TV. It wasn't huge but it was big enough, you know, for a ball to fit through," Mickelson quipped. "I just felt I needed to trust my swing and hit the shot and it came off perfect."
His caddie made no effort to talk him out of the shot.
"We were in between six-iron or five-iron because the ball will sometimes come out of the pine needles a little bit slow," said Mickelson. "Yet because the lie was clean enough for it to come out fine and I wanted to hit something hard, I took six."
'Lefty' then captured his famous fighting spirit in a nutshell when asked for his definition of the difference between a great shot and a smart shot.
"I mean, a great shot is when you pull it off. A smart shot is when you don't have the guts to try it," he said.
Westwood, to his eternal credit, was magnanimous after a final-round 71 left him in second place, his fourth top-three finish in eight Majors.
"Phil hit some great shots down the stretch -- his second into 13 was incredible," said the Englishman. "I shot 71, which is not a terrible score around Augusta when you're in the lead. Yet he shot 67 and hit good shots when he needed to around the back-nine.
"So, yeah, I think Phil won that one fair and square. And you know what, he's been through hard times recently and deserves a break or two."
After all the trauma caused by Tiger's sex scandal in recent months, one might easily say the same for golf. Mickelson posted the lowest score (16-under) at Augusta National since it was lengthened in 2002 and contributed handsomely to the most exciting US Masters this century.
And certainly the most emotional. As she watched her husband make his acceptance speech, Amy Mickelson was asked if she believed in karma.
"I'm a believer in a lot of things right now," she said, then looking down and taking several deep breaths in an effort to compose herself.
The joy was overwhelming.