The 2010 Masters is in the books. In storybook fashion, Phil Mickelson tore up the back nine on Sunday to capture his third green jacket. After making the clinching putt on 18, Mickelson found his wife Amy (who has been struggling with breast cancer) for a tight embrace that brought tears to the eyes of viewers across the world. A wonderful achievement for a man who had been struggling with his game this year due to the struggles his family was dealing with (Mickelson’s mother also has breast cancer). The ending was perfect. That is, until the media got their hands on it.
Talking heads across the country simply couldn’t help themselves. They had to compare Mickelson’s “win for the family” to Tiger’s infidelity…as if Phil’s success and Tiger’s failure was some kind of karmic retribution for the manner in which they’ve approached their personal lives. Pundits also seemed to believe this was a “new Mickelson” on the golf course, now capable of challenging Tiger and being the rival golfing fans always wanted him to be.
I’ve got news for Rick Reilly and every other media jackass content to draw simple and lazy conclusions about the 2010 Masters. Golf isn’t a moral marker. Mickelson’s victory wasn’t the universe making things right. Tiger won’t “learn from Phil’s example.” Where was this supposed karma when Tiger was winning major after major while banging every woman who displayed the slightest interest? You know what the 2010 Masters proved? That Phil was the best golfer for one weekend of the year. Everything else is crap. Don’t believe me? Wait until Tiger gets back to tearing up golf courses while slamming his club after errant shots. As for the assertion that Phil is somehow a new golfer, let’s explore that for a little while…
The magic started for Lefty Saturday afternoon when he was mere inches away from an astounding three consecutive eagles. That charge left him in the final group with Lee Westwood, the man who had been in control of the tournament through the first 54 holes. On Sunday, Westwood was erratic while Phil played steady golf, parring the first seven holes and birdieing the eighth. He made incredible up-and-downs on nine and 10, setting himself up for Amen Corner. Mickelson birdied the 12th to take a two-shot lead heading into the all-important par-5 13th, where the magic had started the previous day. You know what happened next. Phil hit the shot of the tournament, a five-iron from behind a tree that barely cleared the creek and rolled up to a four-foot eagle opportunity. Mickelson went on to birdie the 15th and 18th for a back-nine 32 and a three-shot victory. A great tournament to be sure, but not something new at all. The 13th hole was truly amazing. Not because of the shot Phil hit (though that was incredible), but because in one hole Phil managed to encapsulate his entire golfing career. Let me explain what I mean.
The tee shot bends to the left meaning that the golfer either hits three-wood safely into play or tries to curve a driver around the corner, a much riskier shot. Phil decides to hit driver. Shocker, he busts it through the trees. So much for Jim Nantz praising his club selection off the first tee saying this was a newer, smarter Phil, with strategy on his mind. His shot from behind the tree was both one of the best and one of the dumbest shots I’ve ever seen. If Phil puts that shot in the creek (which he missed doing by about two feet) it’s a possible two-shot swing and it’s anybody’s golf tournament. Punching out would have left Phil in excellent position to make a birdie, with the added benefit of taking anything higher than par out of play.
Afterward Nick Faldo talked about how great a caddy Jim “Bones” Mackay is, saying, “better for Phil to be confident with the wrong shot than unhappy with the right one.” Ridiculous. The caddy’s job is to get Phil around the course as intelligently as possible. Have we seen Phil in this kind of position before? Hmmm, Winged Foot comes to mind. We watched him double-bogey the 72nd hole of the US Open trying to hit that same miracle shot through the trees, rather than punching out to make bogey and win the tournament. This isn’t a new Phil. HE’S STILL TRYING TO HIT THAT SHOT. No reason for it, except that Phil wanted to prove he could hit it. Nicely done. Still stupid. As if this wasn’t enough, he managed to miss the putt. Classic Phil. He’s always good for one or two of those in a final round. In one hole Phil showed us his true colors as plain as could be. It’s true that this hole worked out very differently than Winged Foot, but that’s the point. No one ever said Phil couldn’t hit the shot. It’s just not smart to try.
The 2010 Masters was not the watershed moment so many people claim it was. It was an amazing golf tournament, and I feel comfortable saying the right man won. But that’s it. Phil is who he always was. An exceptional husband and father. A talented golfer who stubbornly refuses to think his way around a golf course. In the next couple of months Tiger will be back on top and the golfing world will return to the status quo. Tiger getting venereal disease would constitute karmic retribution. Phil winning a golf
tournament does not.