Augusta National shortcut? Phil Mickelson tees off over Masters patrons

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson on Saturday at the Masters.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Phil Mickelson, his Masters third round complete, his shot at a fourth green jacket all but done, was asked to reflect on others’ chances. What the next 24 hours would be like for Scottie Scheffler, who was pursuing his second Masters victory. What Saturday night and Sunday morning would be for someone like Max Homa, who’s never won a major. 

But Mickelson wouldn’t answer. 

He said he actually couldn’t. The Masters and Augusta National, he believed, are different for everyone. What was successful for him may set back someone else. 

“The course plays differently for each player,” said Mickelson, who shot a third-round 74 that left him 13 strokes out of the lead entering Sunday’s final round. 

“Everybody feels comfortable hitting certain shots. Some guys like drawing it. Some guys like fading it. Some guys want to attack these pins, and some guys have to play conservative to these pins. As a left-handed player with different shot dispersion, different shots and holes feel more comfortable to me than for other players.

“Learning what is comfortable for you, learning what holes you feel comfortable attacking and what holes you don’t and then making a real effort to play more conservative on those shots, like you’ve got to figure that out. That’s the fun part of the battle.”

And that segues us to Mickelson’s 9th hole on Saturday, which he interestingly played partially from the 1st hole. 

To that point, he’d been playing reasonably well. Seven pars. An ugly four-putt on the 3rd that led to a triple bogey. On Moving Day, Mickelson was stuck. So he went left with his tee ball, rather than straight on the dogleg left. 

Through a window over the tall pines. 

Over patrons’ heads. 

Down the adjacent 1st hole. 

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It was unconventional, but Mickelson has never been vanilla and he paints in bold colors. On the shot, from the right side of the tee, he opened his feet about 10 degrees left (think 11 o’clock on a watch), slashed at the ball, and the momentum took him briefly backward. You could hear a grunt. His ball started its line left about 50 yards from the tee, where patrons and trees also sat. Heads turned. Mickelson stepped forward. 

It worked, at least in the manner he wanted it to. His ball cleared everything. It dropped on the left side of the 1st fairway. Two patrons in that area turned around. Where’d that ball come from? From 9? It did.  

So why’d he do it? Mickelson wasn’t asked about it by reporters afterward, but there are a couple thoughts. During the second round, he’d also hit out to the left — though he set up straight — and may have seen something. (During the first round, Mickelson hit down the middle.) The traditional tee shot can be tight, and the second shot, from about 150 yards away on the 1st fairway, offered him a different look at the back-right pin. He wouldn’t have to deal so much with the false front of the green, but he would have to cover the left green-side bunker, though even there, if he hit a little long, a slope would slide his ball back toward the flag. 

To be honest, he also wasn’t contending. He presumably thought: Why not? 

So he did. On shot two, Mickelson executed again. He hit, his ball dropped short of the flag, rolled past it, then it rolled backward a bit, toward the hole. It finished on the right side of the green, about 10 feet away. From there, he two-putted for par.   

When he was done, though, he threw his ball into his bag. He thought he could make birdie. 

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