The Masters tournament live on tv is always a thriller for golfing enthusiasts as it pits the sport's superstars against one another at one of the game's most spectacular venues-the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, USA. Almost always, that is.
But last week the first grand slam of the season was handled masterfully by a left-handed veteran who kept his composure and steady hand throughout the final round to capture the 'Green Jacket', leaving no room for last-minute heroics from his many challengers.
The match heated up after 54 holes, as 20 players were within six shots, close enough to overtake the leader. Just one shot behind Mickelson were Fred Couples and Chad Campbell and two shots back were superstars Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh.
But finally, the player with a dozen years of experience under his belt outlasted all those contenders to seize his second straight major (after winner last year's PGA Championship) without resorting to a nerve-racking finish. Mickelson closed with a 3-under 69 for a two-shot victory over Tim Clarke and donned his second green jacket in three years.
The only surprise was the way he won. There were no thrills in Phil's closing holes, just his safe, steady play that forced other great golfers like Tiger Woods, Fred Couples and Vijay Singh to strive to catch him. Instead, they stumbled with three-putts and a litany of other mistakes that allowed Mickelson to stroll up the 18th fairway with no worries. The match was in his pocket after he rolled in a birdie on the 15th hole to move to eight under par with a four-shot advantage.
The win earned Mickelson $1.26 million and after winning the Bellsouth championship a week before, put him atop the PGA Tour money list and moved him to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings behind Woods.
When I look back, Fred Couples had the best chance to challenge Mickelson and had he won it would have been especially poignant. Couples would have become the oldest Masters champion, a record now held by Jack Nicklaus, who took the title at the age of 46. Fred was charging hard and looked well in contention until his putter betrayed him. First came a three-putt on the 11th, his par putt spinning around the cup. On the 14th hole, Couples had a four-foot birdie putt that would have pulled him to within one shot but he three-putted, missing the second putt from six feet. But he wasn't alone-no one performed to the expectations of an Augusta gallery grown used to last-day heroics.
Mickelson himself was in a major drought until he won the same tournament two years ago-known as an exceptional player who couldn't deliver when it mattered, especially in the majors. But now he has proved that he can handle the pressure and is going to be a thorn in the side of Woods, who of course is on a run to break all previous golfing records.
Deepak Acharya is a golf instructor and Golf Director at
Gokarna Forest Golf Resort & Spa, Kathmandu.