By Tony Mangia
A memorable victory by Phil Mickelson ended a wild and crazy week of golf at The Masters on Sunday. Mickelson won his third Green Jacket at Augusta, amidst the circus that is Tiger Woods, and by not pulling a "Phil"--another word for playing haphazardly-- as he has on many other occasions. One potential Phil was averted Sunday, after "Lefty"--the good Phil--shot through the trees on the par five 13th hole. Instead of playing it safe by putting it on the fare way, Phil lifted the ball off of the leaves and through the slightest opening of pine trees and plunked in on the green. This was the dagger that killed any chance of Tiger pulling up from behind and held off a charging Anthony Kim.
The "Tiger Woods Welcome Back Tour" or, as it is formally known, The Masters, began with his 34 minute press conference--or 'you'll never get me to say anything.' Part of the festivities included one of his mistresses, Jocelyn James, making a guest appearance at the nearby Pink Pony Strip Club and planes flying over the galleries with banners ballyhooing "Bootyism" and "Sex Addiction," that is until the FAA clipped the wings of the pilots for "mechanical" violations. Another affair popped up. Really? This time a 22 year-old ex-babysitter who Woods knew since she was fifteen came out. Imagine his self-control for six years? Let's not forget Nike wheeling out that twisted black and white commercial; where Woods' dead father asks his son, "Have you learned anything." I'm sure Tiger is thinking--in the numbing, minimalist spot-- that "sexting" is a bad idea.
It wasn't all emerald greens and sun-splashed days at the conservative club. Masters spokesperson, Billy Payne, admonished Woods for his sordid deeds and how he let down "our children and grandchildren." This brought out the always astute Charles Barkley. He called Payne a "punk" and 'master on the plantation" and even wished "someone would punch him in his face." The street finally comes to the fairways of Augusta.
ESPN did its best to keep viewers informed about the tournament by flashing "TIGER ALERTs" throughout the day--barely paying attention to the leaders. The crowds swooned at his every swing--even when the prickly Woods occasionally reared its head. He shook hands and gave away gloves to fans. Image is everything--especially now for Woods and his sponsors.
Now back to the real story. CBS didn't get the fairy tale--Tiger winning--it wanted but golf got a real storybook ending. Who couldn't be moved while watching a triumphant Mickelson hug his longtime caddy, Jim Mackay, march from the 18th hole through the cheering crowd and finally into the arms of his cancer-weakened spouse, Amy. Good thing Woods' wife, Elin, was plunking herself down on a private jet instead of watching. I'm sure it would have devastated her. Tiger had to lick his wounds alone.
Make no mistake about Mickelson's foibles and image. He cold-shoulders the same fans who salute him. He has his own loyalty to sponsors and has an reputation for blowing shots at crucial times--but he is not surrounded by scandal and an out-of-proportion ego. His detractors feel that he didn't cash in while Woods was in hiding. Phil, they claimed, was M.I.A. and should have brought his "A" game. I guess they didn't hear that both his wife and mother, Mary were battling breast cancer. Some men think of their families first. Still some had the nerve to say that Mickelson didn't win it as much as Woods lost it. Poor Tiger has a lot on his mind. Even after ditching into the clubhouse a crestfallen Woods brooded, "I'll take time off and re-evaluate things." Think all the other tour golfers weren't rooting for Mickelson?
Woods hasn't let it be known of his next tournament but, whether or not he plays, this week's final leader board fielded a great quintet at the top. Besides Mickelson and Woods, there was a strong finish by Anthony Kim, K.J. Koi, kept pace with Tiger all week looked solid, and finally, second place finisher, Lee Westwood, who seems on the verge of getting his first major. I think these five golfers could make the tour interesting this summer and the Woods/Mickelson rivalry is about more than golf in some circles.
Whichever tournament Woods decides is the next stop of his comeback tour; I'm sure the canned cheers of his fans will follow along with his personal baggage and more controversy. The Masters winner, Lefty, will be there. The big question that people will ask is, "will his wife, Elin, accompany Woods?" Myself, I'm wondering if Woods' caddy, Steve Williams, is planning to stash an anti-aircraft missle among the irons; for any planes carrying anti-Tiger banners over Woods'personal air space?