The 73rd Masters had begun with the return of the legendary roar and Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods ensured it was to climax with a roar which so almost heralded a whole new Augusta legend. The National course had witnessed one of its most dramatic nights as the game's two genuine superstars promised to stage one of golf's most sensational comebacks.
In the event, they were denied by the Argentine Angel Cabrera, who stood up and sucked it all in when he had to, on the second play-off hole against the hapless veteran Kenny Perry. It was to take something special to overshadow a three-man shootout, yet it is effortlessly forgivable to call the long-awaited major duel of Mickelson and Woods "something special" – however mediocre their finishes. Out of a normal, run-of-the-millionaires Masters, their impetus had created a green-stamped classic. For hour upon enthralling hour it seemed one of them would pull off the implausible.
But then, just as they both stood on the 17th green a stroke off the lead, reality poked up its hand and reminded all that, in recent times, the Masters winner almost always has played in the final group. Perhaps that will be some comfort to Mickelson and Woods as they reflect on endings to the rounds when, like shooting stars, they burnt themselves out. But then, probably not. Woods was left to rue back-to-back bogeys on the 17th and 18th, while Mickelson was left to speculate on two missed tiddlers in the last four holes for birdies. Typical Augusta. Even when you are a former champion and believe you finally have the old azalea patch cracked it proceeds to bury you in thorns.
Cabrera would say otherwise and his glory cry yelled of the significance of his second major. It was all so cruel on Perry, the Kentuckian who also lost a play-off in sickening fashion at the 1996 USPGA at Valhalla, in his own state. The week was supposed to be all about the new generation coming to show Woods a terrifying future. As it turned out, it seemed certain that an old trooper was to produce a win for the aged. At 48 years and eight months, Perry is four months older than Julius Boros when he stunned Arnold Palmer at the USPGA 41 years ago. Alas, experience only teaches you some things and not always the most important things. When you hold a two-shot lead with two to play, never charge a chip on the 17th and then proceed to find a greenside bunker from the 18th tee. Perry's 15-footer for the victory and, yes, history, was not what you would call resolute. It allowed Campbell and Cabrera another life.
Cabrera seemed immediately out of it when he drove behind a tree. But he took a wild lunge, somehow found the fairway and from there played an imperious wedge to seven feet. After Perry had chipped dead for his par, Cabrera, the 2007 US Open champion, stayed strong and the putt rolled in. Campbell agonisingly missed his four-footer and the two left standing went to the 10th tee. Both found the fairway, Perry pulled his second and a regulation par was enough for the European Tour favourite they call "El Pato", The Duck, to claim a Green Jacket. A slightly bizarre ending, maybe. But by then the nerves were fried anyway.
The scoreboard said that the Argentine's 12-under total had been enough to beat Mickelson and Woods by three and four shots respectively. But the narrative of the day suggested a different, infinitely more gripping storyline.
Perry, Campbell, Cabrera could have not have failed to notice the beginning of Mickelson. Nobody in Georgia could. His opening half of 30 stamped itself in the record books. Four previous Masters competitors had compiled the same number, but in truth none of them had done so bearing the pressure of Mickelson and certainly none had done so with the best player ever to pick up a club standing beside him. "It was fun out there," said Mickelson, "we've had some good matches past and I've usually been on the wrong end of them." He was destined only to win this one by a solitary shot, which says as much for Woods' tenacity as it does for his own still worrying propensity not to capitalise on the full extent on his genius.
Woods began badly, viciously hooking his drive on the first through the trees, although he showed his customary recovery powers to make the par. In fact, Woods' own display verged on the remarkable in those first couple of hours. A birdie on the second, a few more par saves and a stunning eagle on the eighth, advanced him to seven-under. The trouble was, at that stage, his march was a comparative stroll to that of Mickelson. The world No 2 birdied six of that first nine and if any shot deserved to be highlighted it was the second on the par-fourth seventh.
Nick Faldo labelled it "one of the best three shots in Mickelson's career." Oh, to be present for the other two.
In the rough, blocked out by the tree, Mickelson applied the necessary hook to plop it between the two bunkers guarding the flag, the necessary distance control to reach the hole, the necessary spin to twist it around the cup. That he was even required to hole the 18-inch putt seemed an insult. Mickelson appeared unstoppable.
Mickelson's odds lengthened considerably when he found Rae's Creek on the par-three 12. On the 15th he missed a three-footer for eagle, after a quite, sublime approach and on the 17th he did likewise. Staggering shot in, sliding putt past.
Meanwhile, Woods had picked up birdies at the two par fives and flicked one to a few feet on the par-three 16th. That took them level, one behind Perry, and they were suddenly the favourites on the exchanges. Bogey-bogey for Woods, par-bogey for Mickelson and the dream all too quickly died. Mickelson's 67 did not do justice to his shot-making; Woods' 68 made a mockery of his incessant desire. So Augusta hailed Angel, felt for poor ol' Kenny, but more than anything yearned for a Phil-Tiger rematch.
Shot of the week
American amateur Drew Kittleson made an eagle at the par-four 11th by holing his second shot from 193 yards with a six-iron on Friday. It was only the sixth eagle at the hole in history after efforts by Jerry Barber, Brad Faxon, KJ Choi, Rory Sabbatini and Stephen Ames.
Fluff of the week
Padraig Harrington's hopes of a third straight major disappeared with a nine at the par-five 2nd on Saturday. He drove into the trees on the left and twice hit the woodwork, took a penalty drop from a bush and played out of a ditch before getting back to the fairway.
Man of the week
Billy Payne, the Augusta chairman, reacted to criticism that the tournament had become by making sure the course was set up for excitement. The roars were back. Sure, the weather helped and God may need an assist, but here Payne is the man in charge.
Augusta final scores
(US unless stated)
Cabrera wins sudden-death play-off on second extra hole
*276 A Cabrera (Arg) 68 68 69 71, C Campbell 65 70 72 69, K Perry 68 67 70 71
*278 S Katayama (Jpn) 67 73 70 68
*279 P Mickelson 73 68 71 67
*280 J Merrick 68 74 72 66, S Flesch 71 74 68 67, T Woods 70 72 70 68, S Stricker 72 69 68 71
*281 H Mahan 66 75 71 69, S O'Hair 68 76 68 69, J Furyk 66 74 68 73
*282 C Villegas (Col) 73 69 71 69, T Clark (SA) 68 71 72 71
*283 G Ogilvy (Aus) 71 70 73 69, T Hamilton 68 70 72 73
*284 A Baddeley (Aus) 68 74 73 69, G McDowell (NI) 69 73 73 69
*285 N Watney 70 71 71 73
*286 T Immelman (SA) 71 74 72 69 , R McIlroy (NIrl) 72 73 71 70 , P Casey (Eng) 72 72 73 69, R Imada (Japan) 73 72 72 69, S Lyle (Sco) 72 70 73 71, J Rose (Eng) 74 70 71 71, I Poulter (Eng) 71 73 68 74, S Ames (Can) 73 68 71 74, A Kim 75 65 72 74, R Sabbatini (SA) 73 67 70 76
*287 R Fisher (Eng) 69 76 73 69, S Appleby (Aus) 72 73 71 71, V Singh (Fiji) 71 70 72 74, L Mize 67 76 72 72, D Johnson 72 70 72 73
*288 K Duke 71 72 73 72, B Curtis 73 71 74 70, P Harrington (Irl) 69 73 73 73
*289 L Donald (Eng) 73 71 72 73, H Stenson (Swe) 71 70 75 73, S Garcia (Sp) 73 67 75 74, R Allenby (Aus) 73 72 72 72
*290 B Watson 72 72 73 73
*291 L Westwood (Eng) 70 72 70 69
*293 DJ Trahan 72 73 72 76, D Hart 72 72 73 76
*294 M Weir (Can) 68 75 79 72, MA Jimenez (Sp) 70 73 78 73, K Sutherland 69 76 77 72
*298 R Mediate 73 70 78 77, A Romero (Arg) 69 75 77, 77
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