The best books are the ones written between the lines, the subtle triumphs and thrashings that go largely unnoticed yet carry weighty significance. Its not that the 1:35 p.m. (ET) tee time on Sunday didnt pull its share of attention ' in fact, to an amateur census taker Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson outdrew the leaders for most of the day ' its the import of the power pairing that may have gotten loss in the flurry of winners and losers.
History will note that Mickelson and Woods finished fifth and tied for sixth at the Masters, respectively, and had likely reached cruising altitude by the time Angel Cabrera tapped in for par on the second playoff hole to become the first South American to slip into a green jacket.
Lost in the clinical record-keeping is a subtext to Sundays Masters shootout that defies factual relevance.
The first final-round head-to-head pairing between the games alpha and omega at Augusta National since 2001 may have been earlier on the tee sheet than desired and the result may not be what the script writers had originally penned, but it provided plenty to digest.
In one corner was a sputtering Woods, so angry after Fridays 72 that he kicked his golf bag on the practice range after the round. Although he worked late into the evening searching for answers in the thick Georgia clay, he never managed to align all the tumblers.
Whats wrong with Tiger Woods? Golf.
From 14 major championships come unrealistic expectations. The golf world would like to think Woods owns Augusta National, but the green line since the golf course changes in 2002 is telling ' two victories in seven starts. Two green jackets in seven years for any other player is a career, but for Woods its somehow a cause for concern.
Woods doesnt make excuses. But it cant be overlooked that the man whose competitive clock ticks to the beat of major championships had to color outside the lines this time around. Last years knee surgery likely upended that clock and the result was a Ferrari with a tank full of 87 octane.
I fought my swing all day and almost won the tournament with a Band-Aid swing, Woods said following Sundays 68, a round that ignited the Augusta National crowds but left him four strokes short of the leaders.
Yet more telling than Woods play was Mickelsons mid-week 180.
Historically, Mickelson has a hard time improvising on the fly. If Lefty shows up without a full bag hes usually going to be an afterthought come Sunday, a victim of golfs fickle nature. But this Masters was a tale of two Leftys.
On one hand there was the guy who played his first 29 holes in 2 over and began his final nine on Friday with the cut, not contention, looming. And then there is the guy who played his last seven holes of the second round in 5 under to not only earn a weekend tee time but to suddenly become part of the conversation.
On Sunday, running up hill with more real-estate between he and leaders than he would have liked, Phil 2.0 played for a green jacket, or, failing that, for low world beater. The inner dime store psychologist watched a Phil Mickelson shaken by his watery misstep at the 12th but somehow at ease with the consolation prize, a one-stroke head-to-head winner in the years most compelling undercard tilt.
Woods was gritty on Sunday, but at times it seemed as if the world No. 1 had brought a spork to a gun fight. Bogeys at Nos. 17 and 18 were, well, un-Tiger-like, and he managed to hit just 13 greens, 8 of 14 fairways and needed 30 putts. Hardly the stuff of back-nine legend.
Mickelson, however, had the look of a man on a mission, basking in the intense mano-e-mano fishbowl and playing his first eight holes in 6 under to move within two strokes of the lead. He fell from contention on the back nine ' a victim, again, of overly-aggressive DNA and two untimely misses from close range ' but in the subtext of Sundays top draw he was a 1-up winner. It may be small consolation for a player who hasnt cashed at a Grand Slam gathering since 2006, but an interesting harbinger of what might be to come.
For a competitor who often plays by all-or-nothing rules, the Masters was an interesting case study ' a Phil who can contend with a game that is an octave off. Neither Woods nor Mickelson added to their wardrobes on Sunday, but they sure made Junes U.S. Open at Bethpage a lot more interesting.
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