To lose one of your most popular stars is unfortunate. To lose two smacks of carelessness. With Tiger Woods, the world No1, absent from the Masters for the first time in his professional career after recent back surgery, the last thing the Augusta National officials wanted to see was Phil Mickelson miss the cut.
Any carelessness, however, was all Mickelson’s. In his first round of 76, the three-time champion had two sevens on his card, a triple bogey at the seventh and a double bogey at the 15th where he found the water in front of the green.
In 82 rounds at Augusta before this week, the left-hander had only suffered three scores that go down in the records as “others” – a triple bogey or worse. In the last two days he has had two. He had never posted anything worse than a five at the seventh until Thursday and the same was true at the par-three 12th until yesterday.
The treacherous short hole features Rae’s Creek in front of the green which has sunk the hopes of many a player. Yesterday Mickelson made a six without getting wet. His tee shot came up short, carrying the water but finding the front bunker.
From there, he went over the green into the bunker at the back. In a carry-on all too familiar to all social golfers playing this weekend, Mickelson then failed to hold the green again and went back into the first trap. On both those shots he was picked up by the television microphones complaining about a lack of sand in the flat part of the hazards.
On his next attempt, Mickelson’s ball just stopped on the back of the green and he two-putted for a triple-bogey six. At seven over par, not only was a quest for a fourth Green Jacket over but his chances of making the weekend looked unlikely.
Mickelson is adored wherever he goes but especially at Augusta, where given the local terminology he is not so much a “fan favourite” but a “patron preference”. It rarely matters whether he is playing well or poorly, he is still “Phil the thrill”.
Form and fitness were a doubt coming into the tournament after he pulled an oblique muscle a fortnight ago and he was even more wayward than usual.
He got revenge on the seventh with a par but only via the trees and sand, while he pulled his drive at the ninth through the line of trees on the left and almost onto the first fairway.
He had a line to the green, avoiding those driving off the first tee, but told by his caddie Jim “Bones” McKay that he had a minimum carry of 182 yards, he hit his approach 181 yards and just caught the lip of a bunker for a first bogey of the day.
Mickelson was grouped with Justin Rose and Ernie Els, the reigning US Open champion alongside the past two Open champions. They have 10 major titles among them but combined for 11 over par on Thursday.
Rose made a run at making the cut by chipping in for an eagle at the eighth. While Mickelson had only missed the cut once in 21 previous appearances, back in 1997, Rose had qualified for the weekend on all of his eight Masters tournaments before this week.
With Bubba Watson blazing a trail to seven under par at the top of the leaderboard, any hope of the 10-shot rule coming to the aid of the stragglers was dashed. His only hope was to finished within the top-50 and ties. Mickelson, predictably, struck back with birdies at the 14th and 15th holes but three-putted the 16th for a bogey.
Rose birdied the last two holes for a 70 to make it to the weekend on two over but Mickelson finished three-four. Three birdies in four holes was a valiant rally but at five over par he and Els both had to depend on others falling back to survive.