2009 Masters: Woods and Mickelson started strong but faded late

Augusta, Ga. | Golf finally scratched an eight-year itch, getting Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the world’s Nos. 1 and 2, together on a Sunday at a major again. With Augusta National serving as the arena on a sun-splashed day, the drama did not disappoint – even if there were six groups behind them.

By the time Mickelson made his sixth birdie and Woods knocked in an eagle putt from across the green at No. 8, the rest of the field at the 73rd Masters might as well have been invisible.

Tiger and Phil. Phil and Tiger. Though they’d started Sunday seven shots behind the leaders, the two past champions stirred great excitement in the cathedral of Georgia pines.

Mickelson shot 6-under 30 on the front nine, tying a Masters record; Woods, though he struggled, somehow stayed close. Mickelson eventually would fall when he was unable to overcome a costly double bogey at the par-3 12th, leaving good opportunities at Nos. 15 (for eagle), 16 and 17 above ground; Woods was undone by a swing he simply could fight no more. He got to 10 under with a final birdie at 16, but made bogeys on his final two holes. It was a frustrating end to a frustrating week.

“I hit it so bad warming up today,” said Woods, who tied for sixth and now has gone 1-for-7 since winning a third green jacket in 2002. “I was hitting quick hooks, blocks, you name it I hit it all on the range, and then on the very first hole I almost hit it into 8 fairway (across the adjacent ninth).

... and almost won the tournament with a Band-Aid swing.

“It was just terrible. I don’t know what was going on.”

Mickelson, on the other hand, spent most of the day in full stride. Six birdies on the front nine got him to 10 under par, close to the leaders. And then all momentum screeched to a halt with one faulty swing at the 155-yard 12th.

At one point, Mickelson was so pumped he considered hitting a pitching wedge. He decided on 9-iron and confidently took aim over the edge of the front bunker, but a pull that troubled him throughout the week emerged. His ball bounded off the grassy bank and back into Rae’s Creek. A pitch and two putts later, he’d gone from 10 to 8 under.

Still, the two had their chances. Woods ripped a terrific second shot to 15 feet at the par-5 15th, and Mickelson answered, hitting his second to 4 feet. But both missed their eagle putts. Mickelson then missed from 8 feet at 16 and 5 feet at 17 before closing with a bogey for 67.

“The ball went in the water (at 12), and I stopped making putts,” said Mickelson, a two-time Masters champion whose fifth-place finish marked his eighth top 5 at Augusta.

“It was fun to have a chance on the back nine. That’s what you always want as a player.”

Woods simply never got much going all week. His final-round 68 was only his second round in the 60s in his last 17 laps around Augusta National. While once we wondered if Woods might win double-digit green blazers, he now has gone four years without a Masters victory, the longest stretch of his career. His last four finishes: T-3, T-2, 2 and T-6.

A day earlier, he’d begun his third round with a double bogey, then hit the flagstick at the par-3 sixth, his

ball spinning off the green. Asked his thoughts, Woods responded, “You don’t want to know my thoughts.”

Sunday’s round marked the 24th time Woods and Mickelson have been paired with one another, with Woods owning an 11-9 edge (with four ties).

“It was fun,” Mickelson said.

“We’ve had some good matches in the past. I’m usually on the wrong end of it, but it was fun playing with him.”

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