Masters weekend: assassins, stalkers, suicide bombers

COLBY COSH: Phil Mickelson carves five strokes off Lee Westwood’s lead
during the third round of the 2010 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2010 in Augusta, Georgia.

The Masters news tonight is full of Phil Mickelson’s astonishing Saturday hulkout on holes 13, 14, and 15, where he went eagle, eagle, birdie-that-came-within-18-inches-of-another-eagle to carve five strokes off Lee Westwood’s lead in about the time it takes to eat a bowl of soup. It’s easy to overlook that Westwood is actually still the 54-hole leader at 12-under. Mickelson’s sequence was like a grenade going off in the middle of a tournament that is, otherwise, being decided on the greens—i.e., the most carefully tended real estate, square inch for square inch, that exists anywhere on planet Earth. (I once interviewed an Augusta greenskeeper who had learned turf science at Alberta’s Fairview College; he was bound by non-disclosure rules so strict that Augusta employees can’t even talk about how many Augusta employees there are, but I was left with little doubt that he and his colleagues are intimate with those greens down to the level of individual shoots of grass.)

Westwood is playing steady, confident, error-free golf. It’s a shame that Masters.com hasn’t preserved video of Westwood’s second shot at the par-4 7th. Off the tee, he put the ball in light rough with a stand of trees between himself and the hole, as many do there; most golfers most days would hem and haw over the ball and consult their caddies for a half-hour, especially with a green jacket in the balance, but Westwood stepped coolly to the ball (“Whoa, what? He’s hitting?”) and just schwacked it nonchalantly through the pines and onto the green, stirring nary a needle. He has apparently decided that the order of the day is no fear, no contemplation, no overthinking.

I had high hopes for the Lee Westwood-Ian Poulter battle that Friday’s round seemed to set up; the two Englishmen, the cut-rate James Bond and the eccentric fashion-victim, would have made an excellent Sunday pairing. Alas, Poulter carded a 74 on Saturday. He might still be reading the greens better than anybody, and a lot of men win majors by keeping their heads when all about them are losing theirs, but he doesn’t seem like a natural candidate to rally from six strokes behind.

Indeed, nobody does; 18 of the last 19 Masters champions have come from the fourth round’s final pairing, and Westwood and Mickelson will wake up with margins of four and three strokes, respectively, over their nearest competitors—the sturdy Korean bantam K.J. Choi and a certain philandering Cablinasian who, despite his high placing, seems to be having a tough weekend.