HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Phil Mickelson famously told his then-caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay during the final round of the 2010 Masters that if he was going to win he needed to hit a heroic shot.
That shot was a 6-iron from the pine straw right of the 13th fairway that threaded a 4-foot gap between the pine trees and landed 5 feet from the hole. Lefty won that Masters.
The idea that a player must execute an extraordinary shot under the game’s most intense pressure to win at Augusta National is a commonly held theory. Exactly which of Tiger Woods’ 70 shots on Sunday at the Masters qualifies for his “heroic” shot, however, is a matter of vastly different opinions.
“The fact he was able to go for the green in two at 11, he had a clear line after blowing it right. That was super lucky and fortunate,” Chesson Hadley said on Tuesday at the RBC Heritage. “It looked like his leg slipped on 13 and when that happens the ball starts left, goes left, but he found the fairway. His second shot on 15 was crucial. His [tee] shot on 16. Maybe his drive on 17. He’s had a two-shot lead there before on the 17th tee and had to go to a playoff. He pipped it. It was just smoke.”
If Hadley’s indecision seems odd, consider that of the dozen players asked to identify the crucial shot for Woods on Sunday, there were at least a dozen different options offered.
Woods addressed what most agree was the turning point of the event when Francesco Molinari, who was leading by two shots, hit his tee shot into the water at the par-3 12th hole and made double bogey. Woods played after Molinari at No. 12 and acknowledged the importance of making par on the hole, but it is curious how many of his contemporaries considered his tee shot at the par 3 his most crucial.
“Oh 12, for sure,” Kevin Streelman said. “To know what happened before him. It was huge not to have to hit first. The wind was gusting in more than people were realizing, four of the top [players] in the world hit it in the water there. That was the key shot of the tournament.”
The most heroic? A 9-iron to 51 feet for a two-putt par that under any other circumstances would have been little more than routine?
“Tee shot on 12, no doubt,” Billy Horschel said. “He’s two back at the time. He just saw the guy who is leading the tournament put it into the water, he puts it’s in the water he’s making, at best, bogey.
“That was crucial for him to get it on the green. You know at that stage everything changes because if you walk off No. 12 two strokes back you’ve got to make up four shots because [Molinari] is going to birdie 13 and 15. It would have essentially been a four-shot lead. But instead he was tied and didn’t have to do anything special at that point.”
Situationally it’s difficult to argue with Horschel’s logic and the way the remainder of the final round unfolded it’s certainly easy to pinpoint Woods’ tee shot at the 12th hole as the turning point. From a player’s perspective this was less about execution than it was adhering to a keen sense of situational awareness.
“It would have been curious if Tiger would have had the honor what shot he would have hit [at No. 12],” Colt Knost said. “With his experience, he went well left of where he was even looking. It’s one of the few holes out there where you can make a real big number.”
But if the 12th hole was the consensus clutch moment of last week’s Masters, it was hardly the only option. Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava said on Sunday following the final round that it was Woods’ two-putt from 70 feet at the ninth hole that provided the crucial moment for his boss. If a two-putt, even on Augusta National’s treacherous ninth green, doesn’t seem either heroic or particularly sexy it did stand out to a few of Woods’ PGA Tour frat brothers.
“The putt on No. 9 from 70 feet was ridiculous,” Chris Stroud said. “What a shift of momentum that was going into the back nine. If you are just on the edge of that slope, it’s like an 8-degree slope and then it turns into a 5-degree slope and then a 3 and it doesn’t stop. You can putt that off the green. You can leave that 5 feet short. You could give everybody out here 10 putts and nobody would do it better than that. It was awesome.”
Lucas Glover went even deeper into Woods’ round, going with an approach shot that occurred so early many fans hadn’t even tuned into the broadcast yet.
“No. 7. It turned the momentum,” said Glover of Woods’ 8-iron approach that landed 2 feet from the pin. “He hit a great shot on No. 6 and missed the birdie putt. That pin at 7, he hit a perfect iron to [near] tap-in [range]. He hit a great shot on the sixth and didn’t convert it and another great shot at the seventh and did convert it, so it’s like, OK, let’s go.”
Largely missing from most lists were Woods’ second shots at the par-5 13th and 15th holes, which both set up two-putt birdies, and his tee shot at the 16th hole, which rode the bank perfectly and nestled 4 feet from the hole for a birdie that moved Woods two shots clear of the field. His tee shot at the 17th hole, which was described by many as a “squeeze” cut, did receive numerous honorable mentions.
“That tee shot on No. 17 was just nails,” Glover said.
But even without a consensus pick for those who watched Sunday’s telecast with the uniquely critical eye of a fellow competitor, the entire final round was a clinic in championship management.
“I have to watch it that way, right. I know so much more of what’s going on. What he’s feeling and what he’s not feeling. Maybe at the same time I don’t know. That’s what we’re trying to figure out, to feel what Tiger feels,” Hadley said. “He seems to do it a lot better than a lot of us.”
Even without a signature heroic moment, on Sunday at Augusta National Woods did it a lot better than anyone else.