Masters Memories: Mickelson goes through the trees
Before Phil Mickelson won the 2004 Masters, he was perpetually at the top of the “best player to never win a major” list and much of that was attributed to his consistently aggressive play that in a lot of instances, seemed completely unnecessary. Sure, part of what has made him a fan favourite to this day is that there really isn’t a shot that he thinks is impossible, but that arrogance certainly got in the way of him having more success early in his career and you can argue that it’s still plaguing him at the U.S. Open to this day. Sometimes the flop isn’t the most prudent play, you know?
As Mickelson entered the final round of the 2010 Masters, he sat one shot behind the lead of Lee Westwood, but after some jockeying back and forth, Mickelson carried a two-shot lead going into the par-5 13th. Mickelson had just birdied the difficult par-3 12th and decided to take out driver, attempting to draw one into the middle of the fairway. On the broadcast, Peter Kostis mentioned that despite being 2-under par on the day, Mickelson had been battling a right miss for most of the round, and that continued on 13 as he sent his tee ball into the trees.
Westwood also pushed his drive into the trees, and really had no option but to lay up with a wedge and go at the green with his third shot.
Westwood had no look at the green and his lie wasn’t the best. Going at the green guarded by Rae’s Creek while being two shots down made absolutely zero sense, especially with Mickelson in nearly the same predicament. Get back into the fairway with a clean look and a good chance for birdie, and hope that Mickelson stumbles and makes par or worse and you gain a shot is probably what was going through Westwood’s head.
“Now, what will Phil do?”
Looking back on it now, it feels like Kostis had an inkling that Mickelson wasn’t going to take the conventional path and follow Westwood’s ball back into the fairway despite being stuck behind a tree. His caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay instructed Mickelson that the ball wasn’t going to go as far off of the pine straw as it would from the fairway and as soon as he said those words, everyone knew what was happening: Mickelson was going for it and even if Bones disagreed, there was no convincing him of doing anything different.
“Clean contact…and an unbelievable shot by Mickelson. Absolutely incredible.” -Peter Kostis
“The greatest shot of his life. Must be.” -Sir Nick Faldo
Mickelson would say later that he saw an opening, loved the lie he had and that with all of the fireworks happening in front of him, namely the runs of Anthony Kim and Tiger Woods, plus Westwood right behind him, he needed birdies. Of course, he could have accomplished the birdie by pitching out as well, but that was never in Mickelson’s mind. Take a look at the image below once again.
He should be completely snookered here and again, he had a two-shot lead at the time. If he’s off and hits it just a little short, he makes par at best and brings bogey into play. Westwood made birdie as well after his layup, and in typical Mickelson fashion, he actually missed the three footer for eagle and had to settle for a four, though he would eventually win by three over Westwood with birdies on 15 and 18.
One of my personal regrets about being a golf fan is that I never got to see Seve Ballesteros play in his prime, and I frequently find myself going down a Seve rabbit hole on YouTube because he was not only talented, but he played the game with reckless abandon and a flair for the dramatic. Mickelson, I think, is the closest thing we’re ever going to see to another Seve: a guy who just sees the game differently and clearly doesn’t believe in the percentage play. Sometimes it ends up like the 2006 U.S. Open, but sometimes he actually pulls it off when it looks like he’s completely lost his mind.
Does the fact that he missed the putt lessen the shot? Maybe a little bit, but there’s no hole that more accurately depicts Phil Mickelson’s career than this one. Think about the series of events:
- Sends a ball nowhere near the fairway from the tee.
- Doesn’t do the “smart” thing and chip out, opting to take on an exceedingly difficult shot.
- Actually pulls off the shot.
- Misses the three footer for eagle.
And to top it off, he did it in the biggest tournament of the year when he had a lead. That’s Phil Mickelson in a nutshell, and unlike all of those other times in the past, he actually won the tournament. It doesn’t get much better than that.