From Ernie Els' 'near withdrawal' to Phil Mickelson's victory dinner, Masters Sunday 2004 was one to remember
In a purely historical context, the 2004 Masters probably doesn't rank with Jack Nicklaus' epic comeback in 1986 or Tiger Woods' 12-stroke rout in 1997 -- career milestones as defined by two of the greatest golfers ever. As a competitive docudrama, however, you must go deep into the mind's archive to find a tournament more compelling, a finish more exhilarating, a battle more brilliantly fought or an outcome with greater universal appeal.
Like the grand finale of a fireworks display on the Fourth of July, Phil Mickelson's first major title was a long time coming ... and worth the wait. With five birdies on the last seven holes, Mickelson wiped out a three-stroke deficit to Ernie Els, who played the final 12 holes in six under par but still lost.
Neither man made a bogey on Augusta National's treacherous back nine, exhibiting a toughness under intense pressure that had eluded both players in the past.
It was a memorable Masters from beginning to end. The death of Bruce Edwards -- Tom Watson's longtime caddie and a source of inspiration to many since being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 16 months earlier -- cast an emotional pall over a gray, drizzly Thursday morning. The weather metaphor played to full effect again Friday afternoon when Arnold Palmer's 50th (and final) Masters appearance came to a climax in warm, golden twilight.
What follows is a comprehensive look at one of the most fascinating days in modern golf history: Sunday, April 11, 2004. More than two dozen principals (see accompanying list on right) were interviewed for this behind-the-scenes account of the final round, which focuses not only on the key shots, but the pre-round moods and post-tournament atmosphere that capped an unforgettable week.
Amy Mickelson: It's a huge day because it's Easter. We're big on holidays whether we're home or out of town, and I always overdo everything. We made a jellybean trail from the kids' rooms, which were upstairs in the house we rented, down the steps and onto the furniture, all the way out to their Easter baskets in the sunroom of this rental home. It was a lot of fun.
Steve Loy: For the last 13 years we've spent Masters Week in the same house, and every weekend we're in the hunt, it seems to replay itself like Groundhog Day. Everything feels good, everything looks right, and you're always wondering where the day will end up.
Amy Mickelson: Phil celebrated Easter with us and seemed very relaxed. He's good when it comes to leaving "work" at work--one of the best from what I hear from the other [tour wives]. He's good at starting fresh, but that morning definitely felt different. It was very calm.
Chris DiMarco: The hardest thing is the 2 o'clock tee time. I was up seven or eight hours before that with my baby [3-month-old Abigale] and a house full of people. They went to church and I stayed home, so I was alone to think instead of passing time with the kids or shooting the crap with my brothers. It's long. That's the hardest part.
Ernie Els: It's also right when the clocks change [to Daylight Saving time]. You're trying to keep your mind off things but still get pumped up for the day, and it's very difficult. I still have to find the trick to that.
Phil Mickelson: Instead of sleeping in and wasting the day, I get up early and do a light workout or a little stretching. I go to the course about four hours before I play and get a practice session in. In the past, I've struggled with [late] tee times because I didn't have a routine that worked best for me. I'd sleep in, stay home and show up 45 minutes before my time. I'd get so relaxed, then go to the course, and everything was rush, rush, rush. Now I practice, take a lunch break, then do a 30-minute warm-up before I play. It works for me.
Rick Smith: I remember pulling up to meet him that morning, and I remember thinking that everything we'd worked on to that point in the year had taken us to this day. It was a beautiful morning. The colors at Augusta National were as vivid as I've seen them, and there was a calmness to Phil I could literally sense. I could see it, feel it.
Jim Nantz: The oddity was that Phil was on campus so early. It became the format for him later [at the majors], but it was the first time I'd noticed it. At that point, all eyes were on every move he made. Everybody was focused on this albatross, wondering if he could rid himself of the label. You watch everything and scrutinize everything he did, whether it was right or wrong. Is this going to curse him, cross him or steer him to victory?