AUGUSTA– This is how scripts are supposed to unfold. The carnival act, complete with airplane banners and a daily SWAT team, dominates early in the week. Sanity and sport slowly take over. By the end of a drama-filled Sunday, complete with an episode of “When Pine Trees Attack,” the Masters has its perfect storyline and certainly its perfect ending.
Phil Mickelson won the Masters. He was met walking off the 18th green by his wife, Amy, who had traveled to her first tournament since being diagnosed with breast cancer 11 months ago. She had spent the entire week at the family’s rented Augusta home.
Some moments in sports lift us more than others. This was one of them.
“I really want to recognize my family and my wife,” Mickelson said at the awards ceremony, his voice cracking. “We’ve been through a lot this year. It means a lot to share some joy together. It’s something we’ll share for the rest of our lives.”
Mickelson has been criticized in the past for perceived phoniness, justified or not. But feelings don’t get more genuine than what we witnessed this week. When he first met with the media on Tuesday, he gushed about the possibility that his family might be joining him at a tournament for the first time since last May.
The next day, his three children caddied for him in the Par 3 tournament.
Amy stayed home, mostly in bed. Until Sunday. Just as Mickelson’s second shot bounced onto the 18th green, his wife and children emerged in the gallery. After sinking the clinching putt that enabled him to finish at 5-under for the day and and 16-under for the tournament, Mickelson hugged his long-time caddy and close friend, Jim “Bones” MacKay. Then he walked off the green and he and Amy embraced for what seemed like forever.
“I don’t normally shed tears over wins,” he said later.
He won by three shots over Lee Westwood. A little further down the list: Tiger Woods at five shots back. He was the story (for better or worse) until golf took over. Woods’ strong moments Sunday (like going
eagle-birdie-birdie in one stretch) were snuffed out by too many bad ones (five bogeys).
As he put it, “I’m not there yet.”
Just as well. This was a Masters story, not a tabloid one. It has been a struggle for Mickelson. He has missed practice time with his wife and mother both being treated for breast cancer. He had only one top-10 finish in seven tournaments before this week.
Oh, and it gets worse: On the eve of the final round, Mickelson’s oldest daughter fractured her wrist roller-skating. Dad took her for X-rays at 10 p.m. He didn’t get sleep until 1 a.m.
Well, it’s only a major.
He started the day one shot back of Westwood. Then came one of those “Why me?” moments on the second hole. Mother nature attacked. Mickelson was lining up for a 10-foot putt when a pine tree dropped a stamen directly in the line of fire between the ball and the hole, just as he was in his backswing. The putt hit the pod like a speed bump. A potential birdie went kaput.
Mickelson: “You have to wonder: Is somebody out to get you?”
He grinded all day. Tee shots on nine, 10 and 11 veered off course and took refuge in pine straw. But Mickelson battled back for important pars. A birdie on 12 gave him his first lead.
On the par-5 13th, either greatness or fate took over. His tee shot went into trees again. With a one-shot lead, conventional thinking was to play it conservative. But that’s not Mickelson. He drove a 6-iron and the ball screamed between the trees, kissed off the grass just over a creek and bounced to within three feet of the cup. Potential disaster turned into a near-clinching birdie and a two-shot lead.
Mickelson: “I needed to trust my swing and hit my shot.”
The rest of his round was window dressing.
It was Mickelson’s first PGA win since The Tour Championship at East Lake last September. It was his third Masters title, putting him in a class with Jimmy Demaret, Sam Snead, Gary Player and Nick Faldo.
But numbers were an afterthought Sunday. And his family was waiting for him outside of the interview room.
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