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Can Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson contend at Masters?

Tiger Woods Phil Mickelson
Tiger Woods (left) and Phil Mickelson have combined to win 8 green jackets in the past quarter century. Does either have a chance to earn another one?

Aging champions will head to Augusta National with less than their best, but Hawk & Purk debate whether that might be enough

Hawk & Purk Podcast Hero Article

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on MorningRead.com, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Who has a better chance of factoring at next month’s Masters, Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson?

Hawk’s take: Woods is the guy defending his title, but Mickelson has been far more visible on leaderboards in 2020, which makes him an easy choice here. His two Champions Tour victories might not count for much, but winning is winning, although Mickelson himself has conceded that you really can’t prepare for a Masters by indulging in a few days of Geritol Ball. Whether he tees it up with the seniors next week or joins the big boys in Houston, Lefty will find that his mission at Augusta National remains the same: make the cut, then hope for 4½ hours of brilliance on Saturday and give himself a fighting chance over the final 18 holes.

Stranger things have happened. As absent as Mickelson seems to have been from the main stage in the past 12 months, he still managed a solo third at Pebble Beach and a T-2 at the WGC in Memphis. Lefty has continued to maintain a full-time schedule since the COVID-19 restart in June, whereas Woods will arrive in Georgia having played just six rounds of competitive golf since getting bounced from the FedEx Cup playoffs in late August.

Any script that features either man playing a starring role in two weeks feels a bit fictitious, which hardly makes it impossible. Woods turned the world upside down with his stunning triumph in 2019, but such magical occurrences simply don’t happen very often. Even at the ballpark where such magic is most likely to occur.

Purk’s take: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson weren’t DFL at last week’s Zozo Championship, but they were competing for it. Mickelson was 76th and Woods T-72 in a 78-player field.

So, to choose between them as to who has the best chance at the Masters is a little like doing blood work at the doctor’s office. Do you want the needle in your left arm or your right? It’s going to hurt just as much either way.

That said, none but a fool would completely count out Woods at Augusta National, no matter how deep in the weeds his golf game appears to be. Lest we forget, he is the defending champion and a five-time winner of the green jacket. And before last year’s Masters, he hadn’t won a major championship since 2008.

Woods, 44, can create magic at the Masters, no matter the current state of his form, or lack thereof. Perhaps more than anyone else, he knows how to play Augusta National and still has plenty of length to make his way around. Most importantly, he has worked out how to putt perhaps the game’s most complicated greens.

Does that sound like whistling past the graveyard? Probably. But it’s tough to believe that Woods’ game is completely dead just yet.

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