AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Lee Westwood had the best view of all as Phil Mickelson hit a golf shot for the ages through a narrow gap between two trees at Augusta National's 13th hole Sunday, and surely he had an inkling that might have been the beginning of the end of his own chances to win the Masters and secure his first career major championship.
"Yeah, I was right behind him, but behind a different tree," Westwood recalled after posting a final-round 71 and settling for second place, three shots behind Mickelson's Sunday 67 and 16-under 272 score. "I mean, it's one of the few shots that only Phil could pull off. I think most people would have just chipped that one out. But you know, that's what great players do, like I said yesterday, pull off great shots at the right time."
How great was that shot?
Mickelson had hooked his drive at 13 into the trees down the right side of the 510-yard hole and had 207 yards to the flag, with two towering pines right in front of him. There was only the narrowest of gaps to get his ball through the trouble and out in the open.
Mickelson, as in Phil The Thrill, never hesitated after settling on hitting a 6-iron off the fluffy pine straw lie.
"I had a good lie in the pine needles," he said later. "I was going to have to go through that gap if I laid up or went for the green. I was going to have to hit a decent shot. The gap was a little bit wider -- it wasn't huge, but it was big enough, you know, for a ball to fit through. There was a good four or five feet between [the trees]. I just needed to make a decent swing and it's going to start off in that gap."
A decent swing?
No, it was the perfect swing, producing a rocket that soared high once it cleared the tall timber and came to rest three feet from the hole, evoking a sonic boom roar fit for a Nicklaus or Palmer, a Sarazen or a Snead. Never mind that Mickelson missed the eagle putt and had to settle for a birdie. The second shot was simply not to be believed, and went a long way to securing Mickelson's fourth major title and third green jacket.
As for Westwood, an English gentleman in every sense of the word, he took this latest heartbreaking defeat as well as could be expected, with a stiff upper lip and a pip-pip cheerio attitude that can only be truly admired. This is a man who has now finished second and third three more times in the past eight majors, and was leading this one by a shot after seven holes and was only one back going to the back nine.
But Westwood insisted afterward that while he was disappointed, he was not at all disheartened or discouraged, especially after a lovely chat with Mickelson in the scoring cabin after both had signed their Sunday cards.
"Phil was just saying in the scoring hut that he'd been that man knocking on the door, finishing second and third," Westwood said. "And wondering if it ever does [happen] and suddenly it does and winning majors becomes easier in your own mind. He says I've been playing some of the best golf out of anybody recently and just to keep plugging away and eventually it will happen.
"Obviously when you come close, there's a tinge of disappointment straight off. I was disappointed walking up to that last green, obviously. But once that's passed, I didn't do too much wrong today. I can walk away with a lot of positive thoughts and memories from this Masters."
And he's not the only one. How about 24-year-old Anthony Kim, rebounding from his own disappointing round of 73 on Saturday to mount a stunning charge on the back nine Sunday that included a four-hole stretch of birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie starting at the 13th hole. In the end, the 24-year-old Los Angeles native posted a round of 65, matching the best score of the week, and finished four behind in solo third place.
Kim said he was extremely frustrated after his Saturday 73 left him seven off the 54-hole lead. He said he and his coach, Adam Schriber, spent time in the gym Saturday night throwing a medicine ball around trying to get the proper hip motion that would allow Kim to stop spraying tee shots all over the property.
"I got out to the course about 20 minutes earlier than I usually do today and instead of trying to fix it, I'm just going to go ahead and play the right-to-left shot, even though that's not my normal ball flight," Kim said. "It's just something I just felt I can play with around here, because this is a drawer's golf course. I just aimed right and hoped it would hook left and tried to make a couple of putts along the way."
Kim still has the single-round Masters record for birdies over 18 holes, 11 in all in his second round a year ago, so he knew this sort of score was entirely possible if he could just keep the ball in play.
"I knew if I get the ball in the fairway, I'm going to have a chance," he said, "because I'm an aggressive player and I'm going to have a couple more opportunities than guys who are hitting it further back or who are not willing to go for flags."
Kim has been playing for the past 15 months with a torn ligament in his left thumb. There had been reports that he is prepared to undergo surgery to fix it in the next few weeks, but Sunday night he said surgery will now be "a last resort."
To his credit, he did not want to use his sore thumb as any sort of excuse. In fact, he said he preferred not to even talk much about it. He took a cortisone injection a few months ago to relieve some of the pain, and he's now hoping that Nike, his sponsor, can come up with a new padded glove to ease some of the sting, as well.
"It is affecting my golf swing," he said, "and I don't want it to keep doing that because I'm going to get into some bad habits. For the long term, I would like to get it fixed."
At the moment, though, Kim, is on something of a roll. He won in Houston last week in a playoff. "I definitely gained a lot of confidence. The attitude I had, the mindset I was in last week really helped me this week. I feel like I've actually gotten over a little hump in my golf career when I felt like things were stalling. I know now that with my attitude, if I can just get my ball-striking to what it was, I'm going to be at a different level."
Kim, like Westwood, also paid tribute to Mickelson.
"Phil's been great to me ever since I've been out here and I've gotten to know Amy as well," he said of Mickelson's wife, who has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer over the last year and made it to the course Sunday for the first time in 11 months. "It's a tough thing they've been going through, but obviously they're plugging along, and that's all you can ask them to do."