Friday 27 April 2018

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson running out of time

Mickelson: Unhappy with his week. Photo: AP
Mickelson: Unhappy with his week. Photo: AP

Brian Keogh

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson don't like playing second fiddle to anyone but even with seven green jackets they were almost happy just to be able to play the ultimate warm-up act to last night's star turn at Augusta.

Woods might never win another Major but his glory will never fade for Masters patrons, who forgave his mistakes and cheered his moments of brilliance as if another Major title was on the line.

The 14-time Major winner was the butt of some Twitter banter even before he headed out for last night's final round, sandwiched between the names including Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples and Vijay Singh - three former champions with a combined age of 173.

Aged 42 and 10 years removed from his most recent Major victory, a reminder that Woods will find it tough on tour - "the Champions Tour" - was a funny line but also a painful one given that it contained more than a grain of truth.

Given his performances on tour this year and some of the shots he played last night, many still hold out hope of one last hurrah.

The truth is that while he managed to beat all three old-timers in his first Masters appearance since 2015, shooting 69 to finish on one-over par, time is clearly running out and the game that once appeared so easy, is now as difficult as it is for the rest of the mere mortals.

The missed five-footer for birdie at the first, the fluffed pitch from the first cut at the third and the three-putt that followed the otherworldly cut around the trees at the seventh were reminders that the once superhuman, red-shirted wonder is no longer the same player.

Still, there were also reminders if his brilliance and the thousands who braved the early-morning chill to watch him plot his way around the Cathedral of Pines were treated to a unique cocktail of the banal and the utterly brilliant.

At the second, he drove into the trees on the left but somehow got the ball short of the front-right bunker and with almost no green to work with, played a delicate flop shot that almost went in for an eagle.

After his duff and bogey at the third, he almost aced the 240-yard fourth, drawing one of those famous Sunday roars.

His pitch and putt for par from right of the sixth was another wonder shot. But there were many more.

After two-putting the 13th for birdie, he eagled the 15th from 30 feet, then to it back to level par from the tournament with an eight-footer at the 17th.

A big finish beckoned but instead, he closed out his 21st Masters appearance with a three-putt bogey for a 69, two shots worse than old rival Phil Mickelson (47).

"I putted awful today and still shot 69," Woods said. "Just made too many mistakes."

Despite it all, he was just happy to be part of the great tapestry that is the Masters.

"For a couple of years I've just been coming here just to eat," he said of the Champions Dinner.

"And now to be able to play this golf course and to be able to tee it up and play in the Masters, this is one of the greatest walks in all of golf and I had missed it for the last couple of years, I hadn't been able to play in it.

"I missed it. I really did. I missed playing out here. I missed competing against these guys. Such a great event. Best-run event in all of our sport."

Making up the numbers is uncharted territory for such great champions and Mickelson's post-round comments were tinged with sadness.

"It was better but it's never easy to be out here knowing what you're missing out on with that back nine here Sunday at the Masters and not having a chance," the left-hander conceded.

"It's difficult because you know what you're missing out on and you know what special things happen on that back nine, how fun it is to be a part of it, be in the mix."

Like Woods, he knows that opportunities to add to his Major haul will be few and far between and he must now wait until Shinnecock Hills in June to see if he can get the final leg of the career Grand Slam and win the US Open and put six second-place finishes in that event behind him.

"I put a little bit too much pressure on myself in the Majors now because I know that I don't have a ton of time to win them, especially US Opens," Mickelson said. "But these next two US Opens, Shinnecock and Pebble Beach, give me two really good opportunities."

Like McIlroy last night, Jordan Spieth is also seeking the career Grand Slam this year.

"They won their Majors very early in their career," Mickelson said of the pair after finishing his week in the bottom half of the field on two-over par.

"I didn't start until I was 33 and they're not even close to that. So they will get it done. But I need to get it done soon," he added.

Irish Independent

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