Questioning the Perfect Shot

By Rex HoggardApril 14, 2010, 2:04 am
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Davis Love III paused for a long moment, considered the question and the consequences of his answer, and finally owned it, delivering what his heart and his head knew to be true: “That will be a shot of all time. Right there with Tiger’s chip (2005) and Sarazen’s 4-wood (1935).”

Heady stuff from a guy who has logged more miles down Magnolia Lane than any active player, yet nearly 48 hours removed the emotions and enormity of Phil Mickelson’s bold second shot at Augusta National’s 13th hole had not faded.
Phil Mickelson and Jim Mackay
Phil Mickelson hugs caddie Jim Mackay after winning the Masters. (Getty Images)
“That’s Phil,” Love said. “He wants to win so bad he can convince himself to hit a perfect shot.”

Left unsaid in that context wasn’t whether Mickelson hit the “perfect shot,” but rather did he hit the right shot? History and a third green jacket would suggest that it doesn’t matter. But on a sun-splashed practice tee at cozy Harbour Town the Tuesday morning quarterbacks descended on the type of crossroads decision that defines careers.

There is no question the emotional victory was a boon for the game, but it may have set course management back 100 years.

“That’s why (Mickelson) wins a lot and loses a lot,” smiled one veteran caddie who, like most engaged in the great Mickelson debate, requested anonymity.

These are the facts, for those who have been in solitary confinement or in a comma for the last two days: with a one-stroke lead Mickelson roped his 6-iron second shot from 207 yards at the par-5 13th hole through a gap in two pine trees about 4 feet wide from a delicate lie on the pine straw, over Rae’s Creek to 4 feet. He missed the eagle putt, but the birdie virtually lifted Lefty to dormie status.

“A great shot is when you pull it off. A smart shot is when you don't have the guts to try it,” Mickelson said on Sunday at Augusta National.

It is also a fact that Mickelson’s caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, made two runs at his boss in attempt to get him to layup. The first request was met with a, “no.” The second landed a stout, “definitely no.”

On Tuesday around the Tour office cooler most Tour players agreed that, in the same situation, they would have punched out short of the green and took their chances with a wedge and a putt.

“That’s unbelievable seeing where he was,” said Vaughn Taylor, an Augusta native who missed playing in the Masters this year but not a minute of the happenings on TV. “I was thinking, he’s got to lay up, then I hear him going, ‘hole high,’ and thought, ‘Hole high to what?’ He’s going for the green.”

For the record, Taylor said he would have laid up on the hole. Ditto for Heath Slocum and at least a half dozen other players.

“That’s what makes Phil Phil,” Slocum said. “He loves to gamble.”

Lost in the post-Masters hyperbole is the fact that this was, after all, the same DNA that sent Mickelson spiraling out of control down the 72nd fairway at Winged Foot a few years back. The fine line between success and failure in these situations has nothing on the tightrope between hero and hopeless.

“He has to lay up. Think about it, he makes birdie laying up 80 percent of the time,” one player said.

Mickelson ranks 27th on Tour in proximity to the hole (10 feet, 2 inch average) for shots from 50 to 75 yards and he’s converting 10-footers this year better than all but 47 player. By comparison, he’s 31st on Tour in scrambling, a fact that supports Mackay’s post-round reasoning that even if he hits into the creek his man could still make par.

One caddie suggested Mickelson should have hit 5-iron, assuring he could carry Rae’s Creek, but another pointed out that K.J. Choi ended up above the hole on Sunday and had little chance of getting up-and-down.

Simply put, players will question the play, not the player, and no one knew that better than Mackay, who – more so than perhaps any other caddie – has a standing invitation to butt in when Mickelson becomes unclear between what is prudent and what is possible.

“It seems like they are the ultimate team now,” Love said. “Bones has talked him off the ledge a lot.”

It’s a delicate line a caddie must walk when, like Mackay, his man is uninterested in advice or odds. A point must be made, but not at the cost of a player’s confidence or his ability to pull off the shot.

“I would say, ‘You can make birdie from anywhere but the water,’” said Col Swatton, Jason Day’s caddie. “How they interpret that is up to them, layup short, go for the green, whatever.”

What is certain, for Mickelson there is no failsafe. For all the talk in recent years that the “Thrill” was gone, Sunday’s theatrics prove that under the gun a singular talent will ignore the odds, conventional wisdom, history, even his own caddie if the reward outweighs the risks.

“Sometimes you stay out of the way because great players do great things,” Slocum said.

 And sometimes they don’t, which is why he will always be the “Thrill.”
Getty Images

DEFCON Tiger: Athletes tweet while watching Tiger

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Tiger Woods grabbed the Tour Championship lead and the sports world by the throat Saturday, making birdie on six of his first seven holes in his third round and sending social media into a frenzy.

Here's a sampling from athletes, journalists and celebrtiies, and we'll start with two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry.

Getty Images

Lewis fires 61, two behind Herbert in Portugal

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 8:13 pm

VILAMOURA, Portugal – Tom Lewis came within two shots of tying English countryman Oliver Fisher's European Tour record on another day of low scoring at the Portugal Masters on Saturday.

Lewis returned a 10-under 61 in the third round, just 24 hours after Fisher carded the first 59 on the circuit. Lewis moved to two strokes behind leader Lucas Herbert of Australia.

Lewis acknowledged the thought of another 59 crept into his mind: ''It's something I noticed with three holes to go. I wasn't that bothered at the end of the day.

''I'm pleased that I shot 10 under par. I can only continue to make birdies and see what happens tomorrow.''

Herbert, who is playing off invites this season as he looks to earn his full tour playing privileges, shot a 64 for a 19-under total of 194.

Fisher took 10 more strokes than he did on Friday and was in a group on 14-under 199.

Sergio Garcia of Spain, trying to find form ahead of next week's Ryder Cup, was on 204 after a 68.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 22, 2018, 7:25 pm

After grinding out a 68 on Friday, Tiger Woods is trying to get the lead all to himself in Round 3 at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him.

Getty Images

Highlights: Tiger's seven Saturday birdies so far

By Nick MentaSeptember 22, 2018, 7:08 pm

Tiger Woods entered Saturday tied atop the board and wasted little time taking the outright lead at East Lake.

Woods moved clear of the field with this birdie at No. 1, whipping the Atlanta crowd into an early frenzy.

Following a 4-foot par save at the second, Woods moved ahead by two and reached 9 under par when he played this approach from 144 and sank this 8-footer for birdie at the third.

One hole later, Woods reached double digits at 10 under par when he poured in a bending 21-footer that just crept over the lip.

He made it four birdies in his first five holes when he bombed a 320-yard drive, wedged to 7 feet, and converted again.

He looked in danger of not capitalizing on his first crack at a par-5 after he came out of a fairway wood on his second shot, but a splash from the bunker and a make from 6 feet gave him his fifth circle in six holes.

He went Vintage Tiger at the seventh, playing this fairway bunker shot from 172 yards to 5 feet, setting up his sixth birdie in his first seven holes and advancing him to 13 under, five clear.

Looking to make the turn in 29, Woods instead missed the green at the par-3 ninth, failed to get up and down for par, and had to settle for 5-under 30.

Following pars at 10 and 11, he started looking this approach up and down at the 12th, leading to his seventh birdies of the day.