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Lefty's Remarkable Win

Phil Mickelson does it again

Posted Apr 13, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

phil mickelson

This was unquestionably one of the great Masters tournaments of recent decades, worthy of standing alongside the record-breaking triumph of Tiger Woods in 1997 and the unforgettable sixth victory by Jack Nicklaus in 1986.  Most compelling was the sense of destiny it captured.  You felt the golfing gods had decided there could be no winner other than Phil Mickelson.

Indeed Lee Westwood seemed to be faced with insurmountable odds when one considered all the hugely emotional elements of Mickelson's challenge, quite apart from his remarkable skill and courage.  How could the gods deny victory to a man whose desperately ill wife, Amy, was waiting behind the final green to greet her hero?  How could they deny his three children the joy of hugging their dad in triumph?

The remarkable nature of this, Mickelson's third green jacket, takes on further emphasis when one considers his bleak form coming into the event.  There were none of the early season victories one normally associates with his involvement in the West Coast Swing.  Rather was there a tied-35th finish in Houston the previous week and an equally uninspiring tied-30th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

But Augusta is different.  It might have been build with Mickelson's special short-game skills in mind, while providing him with unusually generous space off the tee to indulge his keen sense of adventure.

Never was this more in evidence than at the long 13th on Sunday where he pulled his drive into trees on the right of the severe dog-leg.  Eyeing the target 207 yards away from a position in pine-straw and through a gap in the trees of only five or six feet, he decided to go for the shot.  And listening to him talk about it afterwards, there was no question of viewing it as a wild gamble.  Rather was it the calculated decision of a champion supremely confident of his ability.

It reminded me of the 1984 Open Championship at St Andrews, where Seve Ballesteros faced a daunting shot of 210 yards from the left rough on the 17th, to one of the shallowest greens in championship golf.  Interestingly, Ballesteros also hit a six iron on that occasion, realising that no stronger club would have given him the necessary height to hold the ball on the target.  These are shots where yardage counts for very little.  They are a product of keen golfing instincts, refined in countless rounds of competition at the highest level.

The fact that Mickelson landed his effort as close as four feet from the target, made it all the more sensational.  Sadly, he missed the eagle putt by hitting it aggressively through the right to left break which could be attributed to surges of adrenalin through his body at that particular time.        

As he explained the shot afterwards: "I had a good lie in the pine needles and I was going to have to go through that gap if I laid up or went for the green.  I was going to have to hit a decent shot (either way).  The gap wasn't huge, but it was big enough, you know, for a ball to fit through.  I just felt like at that time, I needed to trust my swing and hit a shot, and it came off perfect."

It is extremely rare that we get the opportunity of witnessing such a combination of courage and skill.  And it will remain for me the shot of the 2010 Masters, notwithstanding Mickelson's successive eagles at the 13th and 14th in the third round last Saturday, or his wedge to the 15th which missed the target by literally a matter of inches. 

Away from Sunday's battle, there was an uncomfortable undercurrent behind the scenes.  From early in the week, it was clear that the green jackets were not overly-enamoured of the idea of Woods's comeback and the way it dominated the headlines of their beloved event.  Indeed it was suggested they would have far preferred that he chose another occasion to return to the golfing fold.  And that he and his management team were left in no doubt about this.

Certainly the speech of chairman, Billy Payne, last Wednesday morning was meant not so much to lecture Woods, as many observers have suggested, but to publicly hurt him for what they saw as totally unacceptable behaviour for a Masters champion.  The use of the word egregious which, to be honest, I had never typed before, was clear evidence of their disapproval.  The Oxford dictionary tells us that egregious means shocking.  On the American side of the Atlantic, however, the word is used to convey something extremely distasteful, even reprehensible.

And if we took Payne's words as an expression of Southern rightousness, there could hardly have been a better winner, from their standpoint, than a charming, agreeable, happily-married man, adored by his wife and children. 

Aside from all of those issues, however, Mickelson won simply because he happened to be the best player.

- Dermot Gilleece

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