AUGUSTA – It’s a Masters weekend, and the story just changed to one we can wrap our arms around.
It’s not about the guy who is being protected by an army of security guards more fitting for heads of state as he walks around a golf course, just on the chance some fan mounts an attack with a pimento-cheese sandwich. It’s about the guy who moves about like he’s at a family reunion, with little visible security, smiling and acknowledging fans from tee to green.
It’s not about the guy whose wife, and mother of two, has — and certainly will have — all the money she’ll ever need, but had her life torn apart by a philandering husband. It’s about the guy whose wife, and mother of three, as well as his own mother, are undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
Saturday at Augusta National belonged to Phil Mickelson. It should. He could use some good news.
Mickelson’s wife, Amy, and his mother, Mary, both are battling breast cancer. His family traveled with him to a tournament for the first time since Amy was diagnosed 11 months ago. This is their reward.
Mickelson fired back-to-back eagles for the third time in Masters’ history on holes 13 and 14. He followed that with a birdie on 15. By the time his third round ended, he was 5 under for the day, 11 under for the tournament and one shot back of leader Lee Westwood.
Finally, a story that doesn’t come surgically attached to paparazzi. (On a related note, Tiger Woods is 8 under, and for once he was an afterthought.)
Mickelson called it “a fun round.” He talked about the loud roar he heard after the second eagle on 14, saying, “It was pretty cool, that walk up. I can’t believe that ball disappeared and went in.”
Then he addressed the significance of having his family here.
“This is the first time they’ve traveled in 11 months [since The Players Championship last May],” he said. “It’s really fun having them here. It takes a lot of the heartache away, and it’s been great.”
Mickelson’s wife and mother have been undergoing treatment at the M.D. Anderson
Cancer Center in Houston. Mary walked nine holes and watched her son play Thursday. Amy, weakened by treatments, is in Augusta but has yet to make it to the course.
Asked following his news conference Saturday whether his wife would attend the final round, Mickelson said, “I don’t think so.”
His kids caddied for him in Wednesday’s Par 3. Mickelson beamed throughout. There is no way to measure how having his family in Augusta has impacted his game. But given that he has one top-10 finish in seven tournaments this season, you be the judge.
He was 7 under and five shots back of Westwood when it seemed like somebody blasted him with pixie dust. On the par-5 13th, he reached the green in two with a 7-iron from 195 yards and putted home from eight feet for an eagle. On the par-4 14th, he hit his second shot with a wedge from 141 yards that bounced about six feet from the hole and rolled in.
With Westwood bogeying the 12th, Mickelson made up five strokes in two holes. He then birdied No. 15, narrowly missing a Masters’ record three consecutive eagles when his third shot from 87 yards out rolled just past the cup. This follows Friday when he birdied 13 and 17 and nearly No. 18, when a 50-foot putt lipped out. If he plays Sunday’s 18 the way he has played his past 27, he’ll win his third Masters.
We hear a lot about the pressure Woods is under. But that pressure is self-inflicted. Real pressure is what Mickelson is going through, not knowing whether you may lose your life partner for something completely out of your control.
His sponsor-covered hat now includes a pink ribbon for breast-cancer awareness. His wife’s doctors have become like family. Last week, at the Shell Open in Houston, Mickelson pulled oncologist Dr. Tom Buchholz out of the crowd and used him as a caddy for a few holes. Good karma. He birdied three consecutive holes.
“He’s been a huge part of helping us get through, and our surgeon, Dr. Kelly Hunt — this lady was incredible,” Mickelson said earlier this week. “These two have helped us in the toughest time of our life.”
A Masters win can’t possibly make up for everything. But it’s one story worth cheering for.
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