There are Mclroys and Kuchars, Koepkas and Fowlers, Johnsons and Roses. But let’s face it, if you want to keep the hackers off the fairways and in front of the television on Masters weekend, the best way to do it is by seeing Woods and Mickelson on the leader board heading into the weekend.
What is the appeal of these two guys? What makes what they do and how they do it eminently more interesting than those ahead of them on the money list this season?
Seriously, would any other duo have been able to pull off the sham match play pay-for-view event in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving weekend other than these two?
There is no other way to explain it. They are this generation’s Palmer and Nicklaus and when they are playing well, interest in the game, in a much broader sense, increases exponentially. Woods and Mickelson are good for business.
One thing is for certain. If they build on the momentum they generated during Thursday’s first round, every butcher, baker and putter maker from Maine to California will be tuned in to see them play the final 18 on Sunday. And wouldn’t it be super duper if they were paired with each other?
On Thursday, Woods, who was 14-1 to win his first major since 2008, made four birdies and two bogeys and shot a 70. It was not a blistering round, but it was decent enough to get him into contention. Radio talk show hosts interrupted their incessant NBA postseason chatter to bring us stroke-by-stroke analysis of his round.
Mickelson, 48, had a much better round, shooting a five-under 67, which was his best opening round at Augusta since he won his third Masters in 2010.
Of the 28 rounds played under par on Thursday, those two likely reverberated more.
When Woods walked off 18 after saving par, he picked up his ball and was one stroke off the lead. That’s not unusual. He’s never led the Masters after the first round. For Woods, this was right on pace, even though he hit only nine fairways.
“A good, solid day,” Woods said. “I felt like I played well and I did all the things I needed to do today to post a good number. I drove it well, hit some good iron shots, speed was good on the greens.”
If anything, it was hit putter that failed him on occasion. He missed a couple of gimmes on the front nine that made you cringe and had you wondering if he had the right stuff to win at Augusta National for the first time since 2005. And this was true even after he shared the lead at 3-under.
There was one true highlight: The 25-foot birdie putt on 14 that followed a drive into the pine trees. Then his second shot sailed over the green on 15.
“Then the next shot was probably the hardest shot I had all day,” he said. “It was up on a root and I had to play short, I laid up on my chip to make sure I didn’t catch the root and blade it in the water. So I laid up with a chip, had an easy little up‑and‑down from there and was able to move on with par.
“The whole idea is to try and peak for four times a year, so I feel like my body’s good and my game’s good, it’s sharp, so just got to go out there and execute and I got to do the proper things and if I do miss I miss.”
If Mickelson wins a fourth Masters, he will be the oldest to win a major in the history of the game. Remember, he shot a 67 in the last round in Augusta in 2018 and finished tied for 36th.
“It was great. It was a lot of fun,” said Mickelson, who is in third place, one stroke behind leaders Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka. “And it’s fun to finish off the round. It’s fun to make a good par save on 17 and birdie the last. It’s fun to finish a good round off rather than leak one here or there coming in. So it was a good day.”
Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA Championship at 48 years, 4 months. Tom Morris won the 1967 British Open at 46 years, 3 months and Nicklaus famously won the Masters in 1986 at 46 years, 2 months. Mickelson is 48 years, 9 months old. He’s out to win his fourth green jacket, just like Palmer and Woods.
It’s been an uneven year so far for Mickelson. He has followed his win at Pebble Beach in February with an errant performance and two missed cuts. But on Thursday, he birdied five of his last seven holes.
“I was just hoping to shoot in the 60s,” Mickelson said. “I thought there were some 66s out there. Look, the greens are softer than they’ve ever been, and they’re not as fast as they normally are. So today was a day to take advantage of it. I’m sure they’ll get firmer and faster as the week goes on. But you could get after the pins and you could putt aggressively in a proper spot.”
“I feel very good. I feel like I played well today and I controlled my golf ball all day. I’ve shot this number and won four coats, so hopefully I can do it again.”