Mickelson finally shows them with brilliant Masters victory
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2004 US Masters | Wrap | 12 Apr 2004
It was quintessential Masters and Augusta National. When the last pairing of Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco left the 9th green in today’s final round of the 2004 US Masters, ten players were within four shots of the lead and it was on for young and old. There was a real mixture of both young and old, experienced and inexperienced in the top ten at that stage but, with the exception of K.J.Choi, those less experienced, more especially Paul Casey and Chris DiMarco, fell away and it was those who had contended at Augusta before, the old heads, who came to the fore. It was, as we have come to expect, a battle that would go down to the wire.
The fireworks started on day four when Vijay Singh began to emerge from his 15th place overnight to challenge. By the time he reached the turn he was four under for the day and three under for the tournament and within striking distance of the then leader Mickelson. The Fijian’s hopes were dashed somewhat when he left a difficult bunker shot in the bunker at the tenth and, although he managed a bogey, he never again threatened for the top spot.
Sergio Garcia double bogeyed the 6th hole to slip to five over and a midfield finish seemed the best he could hope for. From there however he started a run that would see seven birdies and an eagle in the next twelve holes and a charge that, by the finish of his round, would have him in contention should the leaders falter. He eventually finished in a tie for fourth.
Bernhard Langer, twice a winner here and so often in contention, was out of the blocks early with birdies on one and two, the one at the first after a brilliant pitch from short of the green. He was within one of the lead at that time and threatened for much of the day, but two late bogeys would see him fall back to share fourth with Garcia.
K.J. Choi, who had started the day in fourth place at three under, had the chance to become the highest finishing Asian in the history of the US Masters following the share of fourth by Toshi Izawa in 2001. By the time he had reached the 11th hole however he was two over for the day and at one under for the tournament, only just inside the top ten. At the par four 11th Choi was faced with a five iron from 220 yards that would alter the course of history in terms of Asian participation at the Masters and perhaps alter also his own destiny. The beautifully struck iron found the hole and with further birdies at the 13th and 16th his third place was secure.
Ernie Els made a sluggish start to his round being one over through the sixth hole and just two under for the tournament, although still very much in the hunt. A birdie at seven, followed by an eagle from six feet after a 223 yard approach at the 8th, had him starting a roll that was briefly threatened at the 9th before a great up and down from right of the green there, kept the momentum going. Another eagle at the 13th from 12 feet took him to seven under and a three shot lead, one that was perhaps, despite the vagaries of the last six holes at Augusta National, significant and perhaps unassailable.
Phil Mickelson who at the time was playing the 12th as Els was walking from the 13th green, was focusing not only the job at hand but also that which lay ahead. He addressed the immediate issue with a birdie from fifteen feet the par three, followed up yet another at the 13th, then almost holed his second at the 14th for yet another. He was then at seven under and just one behind Els who had birdied the 15th after he (Els) had produced a delightful pitch from behind the green. Mickelson did not birdie the 15th, a wayward drive forcing him to layup on the reachable par five and so as he walked to the 16th tee he knew he trailed Els by one and likely needed at least one birdie over the last three to put the pressure on the big South African.
An eight iron at the 16th was perfectly placed leaving an uphill 18 footer for the birdie which he would make and thus join Els in the lead. Els, playing two groups ahead, parred the 17th then found the bunker with his tee shot (perhaps too solidly hit) at the 18th. A fine iron shot however found the green and from twenty five feet left of the hole he missed his chance to perhaps seal the deal.
Mickelson made a fine two putt par at the 17th then placed a beautiful three wood into the heart of the fairway at the 18th to set up an approach to, hopefully, produce the winning birdie. His second from 162 yards was right over the flag coming to rest some twenty feet behind the flag. His playing partner DiMarco, inadvertently did him a big favour by hitting his bunker shot from the front trap to only inches outside his ball and on the same line. Mickelson watched DiMarco’s ball every inch of the way as the ball veered to the left as it lost pace and Mickelson, armed with that knowledge, started his ball six inches outside the right edge. “I got such a great read of his ball,” said Mickelson later. As it lost pace the ball appeared for a moment as if it would catch the left lip and lip out, but instead it lipped in and the immense satisfaction, relief, sheer joy and pride was there for all to see. Mickelson hugged his long time caddy Jim McKay, both, no doubt, rejoicing the fact that they had both achieved their dream.
“I can’t believe I birdied the 16th and 18th to win the Masters. I might have looked like an idiot with the jump on 18 but I didn’t believe that putt was going to hold on.” Said Mickelson later.
This was the major that Mickelson had long been seeking, but so too had the golfing world. Forever under scrutiny since turning pro twelve months after his win at the Northern Telecom Open in 1991, Mickelson has often challenged in majors but never been quite able to get the job done. His first big finish in a major came at the US PGA in 1993 when 6th to Paul Azinger at Inverness. He would be third in the same event a year later behind Nick Price at Southern Hills and before this week’s event he had recorded eight top three’s in majors without breaking through.
He has had to cope with some of the most cruel analysis and criticism, some questioning his heart and capacity to get the job done when it mattered most. Those who knew better however, realised that to win twenty two events on the PGA Tour takes not only a great game but a great amount of courage. He has always answered and humoured that criticism in the most professional and classy manner and one of the great rewards of this win is that he will not have to respond to as much of that questioning as was the case.
“I can say that with this taking so long to get here and with it being such a journey, then it makes this win feel just that much better,” said Mickelson after the round.
There has also been a new look to Mickelson and his game this year this year suggesting from some time out that this could well be the year and that this could well be that event. Four times third here, including the last three in succession, has always indicated that Phil and Augusta seem to get on and with a new found patience and strategic approach many were tipping him into his major first win here.
He made a steady start in round one, his only blemish there being his double bogey at the 16th that day, but he had the good fortune of being able to finish his first round on Thursday and was not amongst the twenty or so who had to return on Friday to complete round one. There was only one bogey in total in rounds two and three and then into today where he had created his best ever opportunity to win a major.
He struggled early on, perhaps under the burden of expectation or perhaps just circumstance, but whatever it was he found himself trailing for the first time when Els made his brilliant eagle at the 8th.
For Els he became somewhat the forgotten man in the post tournament celebrations. It would be easy to dismiss his feelings as he has won three majors and Mickelson none until this day but for the number two in the world, the loss will have been a cruel blow. His play today was brilliant. He would later say, “I played the back nine as good as he I have ever played it.” For Els this was his 6th top ten in eleven starts at Augusta dating back to 1994. He has only once finished outside the top twenty in that time. He will surely wear the green jacket one day.
It has been forty years before Mike Weir last year at Augusta National became the second left hander to win a major following on from New Zealander Bob Charles’ win at the British Open in 1963 and now we have two in a row here.
Peace of mind must also come to Els with the knowledge that he did not lose the tournament, but rather Mickelson took it by the scruff of the neck and won it. Indeed if Mickelson had not been able to birdie the last and had gone on to lose a payoff, then it would be impossible to say that he lost the tournament either as both played brilliantly down the stretch.
On the subject of winners and losers there were few if any on this marvellous day for golf. Chris DiMarco will perhaps look back with disappointment but the only other contender to go backwards today, namely Paul Casey, did a great job in his debut here and with that experience behind him, as many have shown previously, he will be all the better for it.
Casey Wittenberg, the US Amateur runner up behind Nick Flanagan last year, was brilliant on debut here, his 13th place finish the best by an amateur in 42 years. A back nine of 31 belied his inexperience and with that behind him and the ensuing confidence, then anything is possible for this nineteen year old who plays out of Oklahoma State.
Stephen Leaney, also on debut at Augusta, was the leading Australian and produced some magic himself on day four. A double bogey at the 10th hole saw him slip to three over for the day and seven over for the tournament before a run of birdies and eagles saw him finish his round at six under for his last eight holes, producing four birdies and an eagle. Leaney finished the event in 17th place.
Stuart Appleby was solid today with a last round 70 to share 22nd place.