Nothing surprises us when it comes to Phil Mickelson. Seriously, think about it for a second. The guy has gone for the green from the pine straw at Augusta National; tried to hole a wedge shot from the fairway at Torrey by having caddie Jim “Bone” Mackay pull the flag; and hit flop shots over Roger Cleveland … from a couple feet in front of him.
There’s no telling what Phil is going to do next … except him when it comes to the Masters. For one week out of the year, Mr. Unpredictable shows up at Augusta National and suddenly turns into one of the most consistent, and reliable, players on the planet.
Don’t believe me? Just look at these stats, dating back to Mickelson’s first top 10 — his second Masters start as a pro — at Augusta National: Three wins, four thirds, a fifth and a T-5, T-6, two T-7s and a 10th.
Those stats look like a golfer’s career numbers — only they happen to be Phil’s record at Augusta. They guy is a veritable ATM when he steps on the most hallowed ground in golf. For some reason, Mickelson can waste the early part of the season doing next to nothing, but the second the last week in March rolls around, something changes.
Major League ballparks are plastered with advertisements. A couple of years ago, the Ballpark in Arlington renamed the place, for a couple of years, to Ameriquest Field, who had a giant replica Liberty Bell put out in left field — the company’s logo — to show ownership of the stadium.
It was a crazy idea that lasted for only a couple of seasons. While the bell was memorable, I’m pretty sure TaylorMade’s 80-foot tall club is going to make a bigger impression from a marketing standpoint. Just look at the thing! I guess if Paul Bunyan ever puts out an APB for a missing driver, you know where it ended up … attached to Petco’s foul pole.
Hey, with the way the Padres are swinging the bats this season, maybe they should consider using the driver in a real game. It looks like a can’t-miss stick to me.
After today’s Masters finish, I’ll admit that I’m a little spent; that kind of finish can wear you down emotionally. I’ll be back tomorrow with some thought’s on Sunday’s incredible final round, but for now I’d recommend you go read some great Masters recap work from Shane Bacon, Jay Busbee, and myself. The three of us put a lot of time and effort into the first major of the year.
OK, I got the shamless promotion out of the way. Congratulations to 26-year-old Charl Schwartzel on his first green jacket. In the middle of Sunday’s final round, I’m not sure anybody would have pegged the South African as the guy to beat, but after making four consecutive birdies to close out his round, it’s safe to say he was a very worthy Masters champion.
I’m sure Player is doing 500 push-ups in his honor.
No, you don’t need to adjust your computer screen; that really is Luke Donald in a pink and green getup that looks … how shall I say this? VERY interesting. I know Donald has a flare for the dramatic, and this is Spring and all, but I have to wonder if he got dressed in the dark.
Whatever the case may be, Donald is at 7-under and will be right there on Sunday to break the dreaded Par 3 Contest winner curse. But if he’s going to break it, I hope he considers doing it in an ensemble that doesn’t look like Easter bunny threw up all over him.
Stop me if you’ve heard this line before, but Tiger Woods is in contention at the Masters. Yes, that Tiger Woods; the same one who returned to the game of golf last year at this very tournament after a hiatus away from the game. While last 2010 was all about Woods finally being back, this this year’s tournament has been all about Woods trying to find his way back.
One year after Hydrant-gate and we still don’t have a lot of answers about where Tiger’s game is at the moment. But on Friday, under another day of perfect conditions at Augusta National, Woods gave us another glimpse of the game we all used to remember. After starting with a mix of birdies and bogeys, Woods found another gear starting on the 8th hole, as he birdied seven of the next eleven holes to get in the clubhouse at 7-under for the tournament, just three shots back of leader Rory McIlroy.
Woods was on, rolling in birdie putts and hitting picture-perfect iron shots. He capped things off with a birdie putt on the 18th hole, something that Woods hadn’t done in some time. The funny thing about the round was that we’ve seen this sort of performance recently, when Woods blistered Pebble Beach during the third round of last year’s U.S. Open to get in contention.
But instead of capitalizing on the moment, he gave it all away, falling out of the race on Sunday in a round that was, for all intents and purposes, a major letdown. That’s why it’s hard to figure out what were going to see on Saturday. If you’ll recall, Woods’ biggest problem has been putting four rounds together. He hasn’t been able to do it since he returned.
So what should we expect on Saturday? Honestly, I’m just not sure. But I can tell you this: I saw something in Woods I hadn’t seen in a long time, and that was a golfer swinging with confidence. If you’ve been watching Woods’ new swing progression, then you know he’s been fighting things, always looking a little uncomfortable with his posture and position.
That wasn’t the case on Friday. Woods was ripping through the ball with confidence, and looked good doing it, I might add. That’s why even if you aren’t fully sold on Woods staying in contention, you at least have to like his chances going forward for the rest of the season. The swing finally looks good, and Woods doesn’t appear to be over thinking things.
If he can go out there and worry about firing sticks, as opposed to analyzing his swing, there’s a good chance we may see Woods right there on Sunday with a chance to capture his fifth green jacket. On the 25th anniversary of one the greatest Masters ever, it only seems fitting that the game’s best player could give us a new memory that could be remembered for a long time.
If Rory’s McIlroy’s round on Thursday’s gave you a feeling of deja vu, don’t worry, you weren’t the only one feeling that way. Bombed drives. Perfectly placed irons shots. Precision putting. If you showed someone McIlroy’s round but didn’t let them see the course he was playing, you could have sworn you were watching a replay of his opening round at last year’s British Open, where the Ulsterman, for one day, turned St. Andrews into his personal playground with a record-tying 63.
McIlroy almost did the exact same thing on Thursday at Augusta National, missing Greg Norman’s 1996 opening round record of 63 by a couple of shots. While there were a lot of comparisons between the two rounds (calm conditions, easy pins, etc.), you can be sure McIlroy hopes the comparisons end there.
Under blustery conditions on Friday at St. Andrews, McIlroy shot himself out of contention with an 80, washing away a great chance to be in contention on the weekend. While some people said the tournament was a warning shot to the rest of the golf world that McIlroy was close, others still questioned if he could put it together for four rounds in a major championship.
Less than nine months after that collapse, we’re about to find out. Riding a hot putter and some precision iron play — there’s that phrase again — McIlroy fired an opening round 65 to tie for the lead at the Masters with Alvaro Quiros. And while people were generally excited to see the new guard at the top of the leader board, there was a large contingent that wondered if this was just another Rory tease.
McIlroy definitely has the talent — we saw it on display at Quail Hollow — but so far, it hasn’t translated to major championship success. The good thing for the 21-year-old Ulsterman is that Augusta National will play nowhere near as difficult as St. Andrews. With another perfect day in the forecast, he’ll have a chance to prove if he can follow up brilliance with a round that keeps him in contention.
Nobody’s asking him to go out and shoot 7-under again tomorrow, but if McIlroy wants to get the detractors off his back, he’d do well to shoot a respectable number tomorrow and go into the weekend at or near the top of the leader board.
Padraig Harrington was finally rounding the corner. After spending the better part of his offseason working on every swing tweak under the sun, it looked like things were coming together for the three-time major champion. He posted a T-8 last week’s at the Shell Houston, and he even found a way to finish in the top-10 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship a couple weeks prior.
Ladies and gentleman, Padraig Harrington was primed to tackle Augusta this year. His recent form at Augusta, while mixed, led some to believe he was the perfect darkhorse for this week … a streaky player who could put together four brilliant rounds in the blink of an eye. He’d done it before, so how hard it would it be to recreate some of his major championship magic at the Masters?
After Thursday, the answer to that question is “very difficult.” But it had nothing to do with Harrington’s play on the course; instead, it had everything to do with Harrington’s neck. As Brian Keogh of the Irish Golf Desk noted, Harrington wrenched it during his warm-up session, thereby forcing him to play Thursday’s round with the injury.
The injury was so bad, in fact, that Harrington was unable to align himself properly on the greens. “I nearly pulled out before I started,” Harrington said. “I haven’t even come close to swinging the club. I was wondering if I should pull out, but I wouldn’t. That’s just my nature. I would always have a go. But it wasn’t much fun.
“I was swinging the left‑handed shot, just warming up and it just kind of clicked and I’m not able to move to my right. Such is life.”
You have to feel bad for Harrington, a guy who already suffered a terrible fate earlier this season when he was DQ’d in Abu Dhabi for a rules violation that was called in by a viewer. The USGA and R&A’s just happened to announce earlier this morning that they’re changing the DQ rules, a move that would have allowed the Irishman, who was in contention, to take a penalty and remain in the tournament.
Who knows, maybe Harrington heard the news on the range, whipped his neck around to see if it was true, and wrenched the darn thing in the process. Considering his bad luck this season, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.