AUGUSTA, Ga. – The world’s finest golfers are as neatly lined up on the Masters leaderboard as Battleship Row was at Pearl Harbor just before the “Day of Infamy.”
From Dustin Johnson, who is No. 1 in the world, to Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth and all the rest, they’re all right there. The full pantheon of current stars is poised and in prime position going into the weekend at Augusta National.
Two major aircraft carriers are missing in action, however.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Any shootout to end all Masters shootouts (as this event hyped by CBS and others in recent weeks) will happen without them, if it happens at all.
Woods shot 75 and finished at 4-over 148, narrowly avoiding missing the cut for the first time in the 19 Masters he has played as a professional. Mickelson shot 79, tying his worst Masters score, and stands at 5-over 149, making the cut on the number, 14 strokes behind leader Patrick Reed (scores).
To flip Mark Twain’s famous line: Reports of their rebirths have apparently been greatly exaggerated.
One tournament doesn’t mean it’s epitaph time, but it should temper future expectations for this 42-year-old (Woods) and 47-year-old (Mickelson). At the course where they’ve won a combined seven green jackets, they showed us nothing this week.
“I hit my irons awful today,” Woods said. “I didn’t control my distance, my shape or my spin. I left myself in bad spots.”
After having chances to win during the recent Florida Swing at Innisbrook and Bay Hill, and especially holing that monster must-make putt on the 71st hole at the Valspar Championship, Woods gave out hope that he was even more of a walking miracle than we thought. That idea evaporated shortly after his 1:27 p.m. tee time.
Woods piped a beautiful drive. Hey, that was optimistic. He had a sand wedge left to the green. He said he had an in-between yardage for his 56- and 60-degree wedges, so he decided to hit the 60. “Next, I’m in the gallery,” he said. “That wasn’t exactly a great start.”
The worst part was that Woods missed an opportunity that the old Tiger, the one stuck on 14 major championships among his 79 Tour victories, would’ve jumped on like a loose hundred. He was seven shots off the lead after the opening round, but by the time he teed off, he was only four shots back. And then he missed the green with a wedge shot and made bogey.
Woods birdied both par 5s on the back nine just to help salvage a 75. Afterward, he put an upbeat spin on his dismal two rounds and talked, again, about being thankful just to be back in competition after his back surgery last year.
“I’m going to have to shoot a special weekend and get help,” he said. “I’m not in control of my own destiny. I need to shoot in the mid-60s [today] and again Sunday.”
To do that, Woods will need to find the green at the par-3 12th hole. He found Rae’s Creek in each of the first two rounds. Thursday, he was just a hair short and his ball rolled back down the shaved bank. Friday, he badly fanned the shot off the toe to the right and had the same result.
Woods and Mickelson, still theoretically in it, are 13 and 14 shots, respectively, out of the lead, with dozens of players – many of them world champions – between them and the lead. That’s a steep hill to climb, even Kilimanjaro-ish.
Mickelson looked as if his game came unhinged at the ninth. He was hanging near the first page of the leaderboard until he hit a drive into the trees on the par 4, then tried to hit a heroic shot through an opening and hit solid wood instead. The ball caromed into an unplayable lie, leading to a triple bogey.
“There was plenty of a gap,” Mickelson said. “I thought it wasn’t a hard par. But I pushed it into the tree, and it went into the bushes.”
At the 12th, Mickelson came up short and watched his shot roll down the bank into Rae’s Creek, costing him a double bogey. From the eighth hole through the 12th, Mickelson piled up a Yahtzee-ish large straight, not in order, of birdie, par, bogey, double bogey and triple bogey.
“Yeah, it was a rough day,” Mickelson said. “There’s a fine line between wanting it so bad and letting it happen. As you get older, you feel a little more pressure each time because you don’t have an unlimited number of events. So given how well I was playing, I certainly put a lot of pressure on myself to perform this week.”
It’s an opportunity lost for both men, barring weekend miracles. Woods was asked whether he still might have rounds in the mid-60s in him.
“Yeah,” he said with a grin. “I would have done it the first two days if I quit after 15.”
It’s an old joke, but considering the unlikely source, it worked.
Woods (T-40) and Mickelson (T-46) aren’t among the leaders, but they are playing on the weekend at Augusta National (pairings). That’s something. The battle for the Masters figures to go on without them this time. Maybe we should start getting used to that.