2009 Masters: Mickelson’s wild ride continues

Augusta, Ga. | If you’re throwing a party and want to liven things up, forget about bringing in a rock band, circus clown or the most clever wise guy from the Improv. Just invite Phil Mickelson and ask him to bring the unpredictable form of entertainment that on Masters Sunday had onlookers jumpy because of joy and pain.

Mickelson doesn’t just play golf. He prompts palpitations.

“I’m a heart attack out there,” his wife, Amy, said of her spectating.

It’s always harder to watch, particularly if Mickelson is your man. Odd for a 36-time winner, that he’s as uncertain as island weather.

Lefty was at his spectacular best, good and bad, on Sunday, thrilling and teasing throughout, becoming the central figure for most of the afternoon even though he never quite caught up. He and playing competitor Tiger Woods, both starting seven shots back, turned an undercard into what felt like the deafening

main event until their charges turned into late retreat.

Mickelson’s own heartbeat rode an E-ticket roller coaster. That happens when you follow a series of great shots during a front-nine 30 with a watery double bogey and two short missed putts on the final seven holes. The acceleration was fast even by Phil the Thrill’s standards.

“A very emotional day because it’s up and down, up and down, a lot of highs and lows,” Mickelson said after finishing fifth. “The crowd (roars) made the highs even higher, and the moans made the lows even lower.”

First Mickelson brightened a scoreboard that through 54 holes featured no world top-10 players among the leading nine. Six birdies in seven holes took care of that. For a long while on Easter, he singlehandedly restored the roars at Augusta.

Mickelson’s run came while Kenny Perry was in the midst of parring the first 11 holes. Perry demonstrated

a Nick Faldo-like steadiness that preceded his losing control of a two-shot lead with a bogey-bogey finish.

But this wasn’t just Perry’s Masters to win. It was Mickelson’s, too. The three-time major champion, who recently said he was playing better than ever, stood on the 12th tee at 10 under par, one shot off the lead. At that point, he might have been the smart-money play, what with a hot streak just behind him and par-5 birdie holes and score-posting potential right ahead. Hindsight says a last-nine 33 wins outright and 34 plays off at 12 under.

For certain Mickelson seemed a more likely choice than eventual winner Angel Cabrera. Rarely does someone slip on a green jacket after shanking a shot (No. 8) and rattling a risky playoff approach through trees. Rarely does someone not named Woods close when three back with six holes to play. Rarely does someone, even a recent U.S. Open champion, win a major when his only top 10 worldwide the past year was at something called the Africa Open.

But Cabrera overcame all that. That’s how golf rolls, unevenly.

What Mickelson couldn’t offset were four squandered strokes coming in. He pulled a punch 9-iron about 40 feet at the 155-yard 12th – “really a terrible swing” – and made the watery double. Unsure of the break after watching Woods’ putt veer right instead of the expected left, a tentative Mickelson shoved a 4-foot eagle putt at 15 that would’ve tied Perry for the lead. And he misread a 5-foot birdie putt at 17, also missing left.

“The ball went in the water and I stopped making putts,” he said.

Mickelson had one word for those mistakes: “Hurt.” Same could be said for three of his back nines – 38, 37, 37. That’s the difference between green clothing and green envy.

His Sunday sidekick suffered in a different way. Woods admirably fought through what he called a “Band-Aid swing” that produced quick, ugly hooks and blocks on the range. Hearing that, the question wasn’t whether Hank Haney can fix Charles Barkley’s swing as it was how long it’ll take to right Woods’.

Though coming up short of what it desires most, golf’s 1-2 punch had fun climbing into the fray, said longtime Mickelson caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay. The theater was so grand and loud that Mackay said the round produced the “most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course.”

Why over his player’s three major successes?

“It’s the greatest tournament in the world, we were out there with the greatest player in history, it was 75 and sunny, and he shot 30 on the front,” Mackay said. “Come on, let’s try to win the Masters. It’s fun out there.”

Apparently Mickelson had similar vibes about the pairing and round. To hear his wife, they were predetermined Sunday morning.

“He told me, ‘Whatever happens, it’s my favorite day of the year,’ ” Amy Mickelson said.

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