A battle for the ages between Tiger and Phil

By Associated PressApril 12, 2009, 4:00 pm
Bookmark and Share
AUGUSTA, Ga. ' They battled each other as though no one else was playing, and for many of those lucky enough to be at Augusta National on Easter Sunday, no one else was.
 
Every shot seemed to spark a new roar echoing through the Georgia pines, and every birdie brought new hope that this might be the most magical Masters of them all.
 
Phil Mickelson started it, but Tiger Woods wasnt about to let him finish it by himself.
 
Not with the green jacket still up for grabs. Not with Augusta National just begging to be taken.
 
Not with what this, the most personal of duels, meant to both men.
 
The record will reflect that Angel Cabrera won this Masters and the coveted green jacket that goes along with it. But anyone watching will tell you that Tiger and Phil stole the show.
Tiger Woods reacts to a missed putt on the seventh green during the final round of the 2009 Masters Tournament. (Getty Images)

The fans who streamed out of Augusta National by the hundreds even as the leaders played the back nine certainly thought so. They could have stuck around for what eventually became the first three-way playoff in 22 years, but there didnt seem much point after the thrills Woods and Mickelson provided.
 
They were the dream pairing, and they delivered more than anyone could have imagined. For the best part of four hours they gave us the kind of moments that Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry cant deliver in their entire career.
 
The patrons, as they call them here, responded by screaming in joy, high-fiving one another, and acting in very unpatronlike ways. Straining to get in on the action, they even ran from hole to hole, the most taboo of all the no-nos at the Masters.
 
They all wanted in on this action, and who could blame them. Mickelson stoked their fire by making birdies from everywhere imaginable on the front nine, and by the time Woods rolled in an eagle putt on No. 8, the game was really on.
 
Behind them somewhere, Cabrera and Perry were playing in the final group and their nerves were beginning to show. Ahead of them was a back nine filled with tantalizing possibilities of birdies, eagles, and even more.
 
How good was this? Just ask one of the men on the inside.
 
It was the most fun I ever had on a golf course, said Jim Bones Mackay, Mickelsons longtime caddie.
 
The fact that there is an undercurrent of bad blood between the two men simply added to the intrigue on this gorgeous spring day. Woods caddie, Steve Williams, said a few months earlier that he hated Mickelson, and the two players arent exactly dinner companions.
 
But this was a day for spectacular golf, not pettiness. And while they werent trading jokes inside the ropes, there was some back and forth.
 
Great shot, Woods kept saying to Mickelson.
 
Back to you, Mickelson said to Woods.
 
Mickelson set the bar high with six birdies in a seven-hole stretch on the front nine, including a miraculous shot through the trees on No. 7 that finished in kick-in range. He tied the front nine record with a 30 and stood on the 12th tee with a 9-iron in his hand, suddenly just a stroke off the lead.
 
Being Mickelson, of course, he promptly hit it in the water.
 
Most players would have collapsed right there. But Mickelson has been in a few jams in his time, and soon the game was back on.
 
Both players were closing in on the lead but still desperate for more birdies. And both had great chances for eagles on the two par-5s on the back nine, only to miss.
 
Mickelsons miss on No. 15 hurt the most. After watching Woods knock it to 15 feet he stuck it to just 4 feet and had an eagle putt to take the lead.
 
It didnt come close.
 
I just didnt trust the read and made a very tentative stroke, Mickelson said. If I had eagled 15 Im right back in the tournament.
 
The finish was anti-climatic because by then the two seemed spent. Woods bogeyed the last two holes, and Mickelson missed a short birdie on the 17th and made bogey on the final hole himself.
 
They would have needed 64s to get in the playoff, and Mickelson ended with a 67 and Woods a 68.
 
But what a blast it was while it lasted.
 
The front nine was awesome. It was really fun, Mickelson said. It was fun to have a chance on the back nine. I think thats what we always want as players.
 
Woods usually wants a little more, and that might account for the scowl on his face as he walked out of the scoring hut off the 18th green where wife, Elin was waiting, dressed appropriately in a red sweater. He hasnt won here in four years now, his longest drought at the Masters, and at times his frustration showed.
 
He hit it terrible on the driving range, and even worse on the first hole when his tee shot went way left into the ninth fairway. He was in danger of being trampled by Mickelson, being overrun by the rest of the field, and getting his ego bruised all at the same time.
 
But somehow he managed to come to the 17th tee with a slim chance to do the unthinkable.
 
I fought my swing all day and just kind of Band-Aided around and almost won the tournament with a Band-Aid swing today, Woods said.
 
Woods didnt stick around to analyze it much further. He was finished, and in no mood to watch anyone else finish.
 
Mickelson lingered a little longer, getting a hug and kiss from wife Amy underneath the huge tree on the clubhouse lawn. Soon, too, he was gone, leaving only with thoughts of what might have been.
 
They came to win, and they came up short. Someone else would wear the green jacket.
 
But as a warmup act they couldnt be beat.
 

Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Masters Tournament
  • Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

    By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

    The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

    Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

    The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

    Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

    Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

    Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


    They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

    A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

    With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

    And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

    “I have no idea,” he laughed.

    Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

    The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

    The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

    “So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

    While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

    Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

    Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

    The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

    All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

    Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

    Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.

    After Further Review: Whan deserves major credit

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 11:18 pm

    Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On Mike Whan's really, really good idea ...

    If LPGA commissioner Mike Whan hasn’t earned a gold star yet for creating the Race to the CME Globe four years ago, he deserves one now. The race’s finish at the CME Group Tour Championship has become a spectacular fireworks show. Stacy Lewis said it best on Saturday. She said the pressure the top players feel at CME is the “worst” those players feel all year, and by that she meant the “most intense,” the kind that makes for the best weeks.

    You can argue there’s more pressure on the top women at the CME than there is in a major. The Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring, the Rolex world No. 1 ranking and the money-winning title all seem to come down to this final week, when there’s also the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot up for grabs. You have to think the weight of all that might have had something to do with Lexi Thompson missing that 2-footer at Sunday’s end. She came away with the Vare Trophy and $1 million jackpot as nice consolation prizes. We all came away thrilled by Ariya Jutanugarn’s birdie-birdie finish amid the gut-wrenching drama. - Randall Mell


    On Austin Cook's improbable winner's journey ...

    Despite becoming a Monday qualifying sensation on the PGA Tour in 2015, Austin Cook still had to head to Web.com Tour Q-School that winter. There he collapsed over his final four holes to blow a chance at full status, and one year later the cancellation of the Web.com Tour Championship because of Hurricane Matthew left him $425 short of a PGA Tour card.

    But Cook put to rest all of his recent near-misses with four days of nearly flawless golf at Sea Island. Now he’s headed to Augusta National in April and exempt through 2020, afforded ample time to look back at how tough breaks in the past helped to shape his unique journey to the winner’s circle. - Will Gray

    On what Cook's win says about PGA Tour depth ...

    Players talk regularly about the depth of talent on the PGA Tour, claiming that anyone in a particular field can come away with a trophy on any given week.

    To prove the point, Austin Cook, No. 306 in the Official World Golf Ranking, rolled over the field at the RSM Classic with rounds of 66-62-66-67 for a four-stroke victory. Before Sunday at Sea Island Resort, Cook’s only triumph in a professional event was at a mini-tour winter series tournament. That payday was $5,000.

    His victory at the RSM Classic was worth considerably more and proved, yet again, the depth of the modern game. - Rex Hoggard

    Snedeker feels close to 100 percent after RSM week

    By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:09 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Even if the result – a tie for 29th place – wasn't exactly what Brandt Snedeker is accustomed to, given his journey back from injury he’ll consider his final regular-season start of 2017 a success.

    Snedeker had been sidelined with a sternum injury since June and overhauled his swing with the help of his coach John Tillery in an attempt to alleviate future injury. Needless to say, his expectations at the RSM Classic were low.

    After starting the week with back-to-back rounds of 67 to move into contention, Snedeker wasn’t as sharp on the weekend, but he was still pleased with his week.


    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


    “It was great to see how my swing held up and the golf course toughen up today and the changes we made. Inevitably you kind of revert back to what’s comfortable and natural,” he said. “But now my body feels good. I was shocked. I thought I’d be close to 75 percent this week and felt closer to 100 [percent]. Hopefully it continues to stay that way.”

    Snedeker said he has a busy schedule planned for early next season on the West Coast and also plans to play next month’s QBE Shootout.

    “Every time I’ve come back from injury I’ve been kind of like, well I’m close but not quite there,” said Snedeker, who added that he was pain-free for the entire week. “This is the first time I’ve come back and been like it’s there.”

    Cook hopes RSM win starts a ROY campaign

    By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 10:43 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook cruised to his first PGA Tour victory on Sunday at the RSM Classic, a nearly flawless performance that included just two bogeys for the week and a 21-under total.

    Earlier in the week, Cook’s caddie Kip Henley said Cook was playing the most effortless golf he’d ever witnessed. But as is so often the case, it can be tough to tell what is really going on inside a player's mind.

    “A lot of stuff going on, especially up here,” Cook laughed pointing at his head. “A little tenseness. This week my ball-striking was great, and for the most part my putting was great as well. All around my game was just incredible this week.”


    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


    Following a bogey at the second hole on Sunday that cut his lead to two shots, the rookie responded with a birdie at the seventh hole and added three more over his final four holes to beat J.J. Spaun by four strokes.

    It was a timely victory for a player who has set rather lofty goals for himself.

    “My goal coming into the year was to win Rookie of the Year and I’ve gotten off to a good start. Now my goal is to make a long deep run into the FedExCup playoffs,” he said.

    Cook became the second consecutive rookie winner of the RSM Classic following Mac Hughes’ victory last year.