On the par-five 13th hole, a hole that he eagled during the third round, Phil Mickelson found himself in the woods.
His ball tricked in amongst the pines and nestled down right behind a tree and just to the right of another.
Mickelson hovered over it and surveyed the landscape. The green, 205 yards away, was straight uphill from him, and there was just enough of a gap between the two trees to get the ball through and possibly up towards it.
He pulled out a mid-iron, acquired some advice from his caddie, and settled over his second shot, hoping for the best. He struck the ball cleanly, and it somehow evaded the tree that was four feet ahead. It soared through the air, cleared the stream that was just in front of the green, and stopped within five feet of the pin.
The crowd roared as he tipped his cap, pumped his fist, and walked jubilantly up the fairway.
At the time, he was 13-under. Even in missing the putt, he improved to 14-under, lengthening his lead to two.
The missed opportunity appeared demoralizing for Mickelson. The eagle putt was very makeable, and missing it on the high side clearly shocked the left-hander, but it didn’t faze him for long.
His shot out of the trees was probably the best of his career—and despite the disappointment, it would fuel his third Masters title.
K.J. Choi had a blistering front nine and took the lead for a short while by birdieing four of his first ten holes. He continued his bogey-free round, parring the 11th and 12th and then hitting a superb drive off the 13th tee.
That’s when everything went south.
He pulled his approach shot into a green-side bunker and eventually bogeyed the hole, a hole that a majority of others flourished on. Rattled, he bogeyed the following hole too. Suddenly, with third-round leader Lee Westwood also unable to making a lasting run, it was Mickelson’s tournament to lose.
Considering how surprised I was to see Tiger Woods compete, I was half-expecting him to challenge Mickelson and go on a birdie run as Choi did. But he could not, struggling to find consistency. He couldn’t hit a drive to save his life, many a time following through with one hand on the club, which is not the objective. His wayward play off the tee was detrimental to the rest of the game.
Even when he did pull something out of the hat, as on the seventh, when his second shot spun into the hole for a eagle, he couldn’t build on it.
His Sunday afternoon was summed up by one putt. On the 14th hole, Woods had a six-footer for birdie. His attempt rimmed out. Frustrated, he wasted no time in stepping over his second putt. That three-footer missed as well, to his shock.
He wasn’t focused, and because of this and his lack of execution over the entirety, he fell out of contention.
Despite this, he finished his first tournament back on a high note, birdying the 18th for fourth place and a 69 for the day. After watching the putt fall, he waved his hand at the hole, wondering where that putting stroke had been earlier.
Mickelson birdied the 18th as well, but his reaction was a bit different. He pumped his fist, acknowledged the crowd, hugged his caddie, and then went over to hug his wife, Amy, who is battling breast cancer.
Mickelson had won the Masters, and his third Green Jacket was certainly deserved.