AUGUSTA, Ga. -- After all the questions about whether the Masters was going to match the excitement of years past, we now have an answer.
On a sun splashed afternoon at Augusta National, it's something you can both see and hear, never more so than when Phil Mickelson somehow hooked his approach shot around a tree on No. 7, landed it to about a foot, and sent this place into a frenzy. Strike that. It's not only something you can see and hear, because at that point, you could almost feel the ground shake.
The birdie was Mickelson's fifth in seven holes to start, and after adding another on the par-5 eighth, he has brought the improbable into the picture, now just a shot off the lead after a record front nine of 30 -- just the fourth such nine in Masters history.
Update, 4:15 p.m.:: Hold that green jacket ceremony. Mickelson wavers on a club selection on the 12th tee, attempts a punch 9-iron and ends up depositing his tee shot in Rae's Creek. He ends up with a double bogey to drop to eight under, three shots behind leaders Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry.
Update, 5:00 p.m.: Turns out 12 won't be the only hole that Mickelson will be kicking himself over. He had only five feet for eagle on 15, and somehow he missed the hole completely. Both he and Woods had to settle for birdie, leaving Phil one shot back and Tiger behind two.
__Update, 5:39 p.m.:__Raise your hand if, in your Masters pool, you had Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson throwing themselves into contention for most of the final round and then faltering late. Both players committed a series of costly errors down the stretch today, Woods with back-to-back bogeys on 17 and 18, and Phil with a double bogey on 12, a missed short eagle putt on 15, and then another bogey on 18.
A disappointing finish, sure, but today still managed to breathe life into the build-up for Bethpage.
But first, the conclusion to your 73rd Masters....
-- Sam Weinman