Tiger’s swing badly in need of repair
The two best golfers in the world cut such very different figures after a spellbinding Masters.
A jubilant Phil Mickelson was locked in an embrace with his wife, his children and parents surrounding them behind the 18th green.
At almost 40, Mickelson had just shot a flawless round of 67. He thoroughly deserved a third green jacket and fourth major that he dedicated to his beloved Amy, who last year was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I don’t normally shed tears over wins,” Mickelson said of the emotional embrace with his wife.
"We’ve been through a lot this year and it means a lot to share some joy together.
"She’s an incredible wife, an incredible mother and she’s been an inspiration for me."
"It’s been such an emotional week, I can’t put it into words but it’s something that we’ll share and remember the rest of our lives.”
Minutes before, a forlorn Tiger Woods was leaning against the back of a gray Chevrolet SUV, taking off his golf shoes. He was surrounded by his agent, Mark Steinberg, publicist Glenn Greenspan and a security detail.
Woods and Mickelson are men, then, at different stages of their lives — Woods’ marriage has all but disintegrated in the wake of his adulteries — and different stages of their golf games, too.
It won’t have been lost on Woods that Sunday marked the third straight time Mickelson had bested him, dating back to last year’s Tour Championship in Atlanta and then the HSBC event in China.
As Johnny Miller might ask, is there a new sheriff in town?
Certainly, Woods needs to fix his golf swing. And fast.
"It was god awful," he said as he left Augusta National, “I’ve never hit it that bad.”
While it was always, perhaps, too much to ask that Woods return from the deep, dark, desperate places he’s been to win the Masters, the truth is that he could have done so much more. And he knows it.
That he finished in a tie for fourth was testament only to his ganas.
Woods somehow finished with a 69, for a total of 11 under par, five shots behind Mickelson.
But that doesn’t begin to tell the story of his round.
Last year, Woods began his Masters Sunday with a vicious pull hook off the first tee, the first of many errant shots he would later deride as his "Band-Aid swing."
If last year was a Band-Aid, then this year he was in need of a tourniquet.
Woods hit the same pull hook off the first tee this year.
He was in the ninth fairway, much to the surprise of Adam Scott, who was coming down that hole, before trying to hit a high sliced iron toward the first green. That was the first bogey on a day he needed to keep them off his card. There would, however, be more to come.
“I had another terrible warm-up today,” Woods said.
“I didn’t have it and it was pretty evident. I hit a quick hook off of 1, popped up the tee shot on 2, bladed a little pitch shot on 3, stuck it in the ground on 4, and hit a low hook on 5. Tough day.”
He finally hit his first green in regulation of the day on the sixth, but that 8-iron got stuck behind him, too, and he needed to skillfully two-putt just to make par.
Then, on the seventh, came a ray of sunshine. Woods holed out from the fairway for eagle, then birdied the eighth and ninth.
Suddenly, all eyes were again trained upon the Tiger.
He’d been seven shots off the pace and was only three down going into the back nine.
But this wouldn’t be one of those patented Tiger Woods Sundays at Augusta.
It turns out there’s no hiding a broken swing.
For the second straight day, Woods couldn’t get his golf club in front of his body on the downswing.
On the 10th, where he popped up his drive and luckily caught the downslope, he managed to salvage par. But on the 11th, a hole which really doesn’t suit him anymore, he hit yet another block which finished deep in the trees. He compounded the misery by hitting a tree with his second shot, but followed that with a fabulous wedge over the trees to 5 feet.
But if there was a difference between Woods and Mickelson Sunday it was that only one of them made the big par putts. And it wasn’t Woods.
He bogeyed the 11th, tried to cut an 8-iron on the 12th — it was a 9-iron distance — and barely made par from the back bunker, then popped up another tee shot on the 13th.
The 3-wood shot was so bad he couldn’t go for the green. Most players had mid-irons into that green on a day the green coats of Augusta set up the course to rain birdies and eagles, to bring the roars back.
Mickelson famously hit a 6-iron from the pine needles to set up an easy birdie on that hole. Woods’ short game got him a birdie, too, but then on the 14th he missed a 5-footer for birdie, then lipped out from a foot as he nonchalantly tried to tap in for par.
Woods responded with an eagle on the next — his four eagles for the week tied a Masters record — and birdied the last, too, but it was too little, too late.
Woods, to his credit, fronted the media in four separate sessions after his round. The only time he bristled was when he was asked about his mood.
“I think people are making way too much of a big deal of this thing,” he said.
“I was not feeling good. I hit a big snipe off the first hole and I don’t know how people can think I should be happy about that. I hit a wedge from 45 yards (on the third hole) and basically bladed it over the green. These are not things I normally do.
“So I’m not going to be smiling and not going to be happy. And I hit one of the worst, low, kind of low quack hook on five.
“So I hadn’t hit a good shot yet. I’m not going to be walking around there with a lot of pep in my step because I hadn’t hit a good shot yet.”
One of the Woods’ inner circle told me that it was "a good week considering everything." I told him he should tell that to his boss, who wouldn’t think so. Major No. 15 just needed six fewer mistakes on a weekend where he made 10 bogeys.
It’s astonishing to think that Tiger Woods had two eagles and 11 birdies on the weekend of a major and didn’t win.
It’s maybe more astonishing if his swing coach, Hank Haney, doesn’t get an earful from Woods.
Haney likes to say that the beauty of his swing principles is that players can self-correct when they’re playing by looking at their ball flight and adjusting.
But here’s my question, Hank. If Tiger Woods can’t do it, then who can?