Again playing in the pine straw, Phil Mickelson rescues himself

Phil Mickelson grips it and rips it on No. 2 Friday. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Phil Mickelson grips it and rips it on No. 2 Friday. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Augusta — A third of the 75th Masters had been played, and the champion of the 74th Masters (and also the 70th, and the 68th) found himself in some danger of not being around for what he would call “my favorite two days of the year.” Phil Mickelson was even par after 24 holes and headed the wrong way.

He’d bogeyed No. 5. He’d bogeyed No. 6. Forget that he’d entered this event as its prohibitive favorite. At issue just past noon Friday was whether he’d make the cut.

Saturday and Sunday at the Masters without Phil Mickelson? It’d be like Phil Mickelson without pine straw.

A Mickelson 6-iron from the pine straw on No. 13 spawned last year’s famous victory, and similar escapes on Nos. 7 and 8 Friday led to the birdies that ensured his continuing presence this weekend. Nothing much happened the rest of his round — he parred the final seven holes — but he’d done what he needed to do without nearly accomplishing all he might have.

Said Mickelson: “I left way too many shots out there.”

He finished the first half of the tournament 2-under. He’s not exactly stepping on the leaders’ heels, but he’s still stepping. That’s a good thing for everyone involved: For all the distinguished golfers who have won this event, none has been more beloved by the locals.

Mickelson was the people’s champ even before he became a Masters champ. He said the right things, smiled in the right places and played the sort of hell-for-leather golf galleries love.And he clearly loves folks back. He makes eye contact with those outside the ropes and acknowledges their shouts of support. (FYI, nobody ever says, “Go, Lefty!” It’s always, “Go, Phil!”)

He lived for this tournament — “Some of the best patrons in golf,” he said Friday — and when finally he won it in 2004 his was a victory not just applauded but savored. He has since won twice more, and last year’s title was a case of the right man winning the right tournament at exactly the right moment.

Beginning under the cloud of Tiger Woods’ marital misconduct, the 2010 Masters ended with Mickelson embracing his wife Amy, who had been undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The cover of the Augusta Chronicle’s 2011 Masters preview offered a photo of Mickelson from that famous day and the headline: “Family Champ.”

Amy Mickelson, wearing a blue dress, followed her husband on his round Friday. “It’s fun having her out here,” Mickelson said. “We’re in such a better place. You can tell she’s doing so much better. We’re really, really happy.”

Apart from his latest pine-straw pilgrimages, Mickelson’s round was rather staid. He drove the ball long and mostly straight, but his short game took a hike. He counted six makeable putts that went unmade. In Thursday’s Round 1 he’d scored better than he played; on Friday he played better than he scored. But that’s OK. He gets to play twice more this weekend.

Leaving the scorer’s shack — after first striking the grace notes of presenting his glove to a little girl wearing a pink Fight Breast Cancer cap and thanking an Augusta National member for his gift of a book on golf history — Mickelson met the print media with a smile. He spoke of Rory McIlroy, the 21-year-old eight strokes ahead of him, and said: “There’s a lot of golf left in this tournament, and I’m going to be making a run at him and the other guys ahead of me.”

A bit later, someone asked what gave him the confidence he could author such a surge. Here the reigning champ paused for effect. Finally Phil Mickelson said: “Three green jackets?”

By Mark Bradley

20 comments Add your comment

Dawgdad (The Original)

April 8th, 2011
5:50 pm

Great to see a nice guy finish first.

MatthewH

April 8th, 2011
5:55 pm

Mark,
You beat me to it-I refreshed and saw that you updated your dates.

MatthewH

April 8th, 2011
5:56 pm

See what happens when you write a story about a nice guy? No one wants to comment.

MatthewH

April 8th, 2011
5:59 pm

Or maybe I should say “non-controversial”. I’m sure Hewitt was a nice guy.

Skeezix

April 8th, 2011
6:26 pm

Watch out. It is starting to look like Tiger is regaining some of his old form. His body language and swing seems to have that old look of “Tiger confidence”. It is like a light switch just went on for him.

Right now the Americans are getting trounced. I think 51 year old Couples is currently carrying the flag for the USA in 6th or 7th place.

Debbie Yow

April 8th, 2011
6:30 pm

The Yanks aren’t doing well right now in the Masters because of Gary Williams. It’s all Gary Williams fault I tell you.

Sid

April 8th, 2011
7:50 pm

I guess Tiger is still a pretty good golfer……………….we are well on our way to forgetting his scumbaginess.

OldTimer

April 8th, 2011
8:06 pm

Tigers game is crap. Not enough focus.

James Adams

April 9th, 2011
2:23 am

It will always amaze me how Phil Mickelson was seen as ’surly’ and ‘moody’ until his wife unfortunately developed breast cancer. Now everyone loves him. On another note, all of you Tiger haters had better enjoy the here and now. Joe Montana had a three year career slump that coincided with him leaving one wife a ‘Dear Jane’ letter and hooking up with another. Tiger will be back and be back with a Vengance. At LEAST 20 majors when he’s finished. Guaranteed. This is coming from an ultra-conservative white male, so no race baiting please.

DeepDiver

April 9th, 2011
4:55 am

Sorry Mark, if you want the page hits you have to write about UGA football.

Buckeye

April 9th, 2011
9:18 am

Snoring……………..

Sloan

April 9th, 2011
9:20 am

Tiger can win a hundred majors. It won’t change the fact that he is a club-throwing, foul mouthed jerk who hasn’t learned humility in spite of his public humiliation. In my opinion he is becoming the Barry Bonds of the PGA tour. He may hold all of the records whe he is done, but he won’t have respect.

Buckeye

April 9th, 2011
10:23 am

Still snoring…………..

Jeff

April 9th, 2011
10:39 am

James- I think you have Phil and Tiger confused-Phil has never been considered “surly and moody”
He has always smiled, acknowledged the crowd (seen him personally do it at the Bellsouth Classic, The Tour Championship, Masters and PGA for over a decade. Tiger is the worst sport in the history of sports. Up until yesterday all you got out of him in an interview was 1-3 word answers.
When he wins he goes crazy as if he had never won before, and when he doesn’t-good luck getting an interview. Phil, Jack,Arnie,Player-golfers with class-are gracious winning and in defeat.

ummmmm

April 9th, 2011
10:40 am

Except for having the respect that goes with being the greatest of all time, Sloan?

[...] last we met, I was in Augusta watching golf. I have since relocated. I’m at the ballpark for Saturday’s titanic tilt between the [...]

Cuz

April 9th, 2011
12:21 pm

I have been hanging out with Fred McGriff in the afternoon the last couple of days. His ES 550 was in my yard yesterday. One heck of a nice guy. I had my photo taken with him. He is about a foot taller than me. The photo is hilarious.

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2011
12:32 pm

Send me the photo, Cuz.

Cuz

April 9th, 2011
4:29 pm

Will do Mark.

Cuz

April 9th, 2011
5:44 pm

Check your e-mail.