April 10, 2009

So Much For That

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Padraig Harrington were the dominant storylines heading into the Masters. All three will be on the periphery on Sunday

Tiger Woods began his third round with a double bogey, and lost too much ground as a result.

Tiger Woods began his third round with a double bogey, and lost too much ground as a result.

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There will be no Paddy Slam. Tiger's number is 14 and holding. Phil's closet is stuck on two green jackets.

You might as well get used to it.

Padraig Harrington is not going to win the Masters on Sunday. And for that matter, neither is Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson. The way it's gone so far after three rounds at Augusta National, golf's Big Three are batting a big, fat 0-for-3 at the friendly playpen of green grass, where the leading lights are nothing but dimly lit bulbs going into the fourth round of the season's first major.

Of course, it wasn't supposed to be this way. When you look back on it, reciting the top stories was a relatively simple matter when the week started.

Not necessarily in this order, they looked like this: Harrington's hunt for a third straight major; Woods plays his first major since winning the U.S. Open 10 months ago; and Mickelson tries to keep up his hot year while ignoring the risk of broken ribs from those skin-tight shirts.

Days later, all three are barely within the same area code as co-leaders Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry.

Woods is seven shots behind after his two-under 70 in Saturday's third round and he's tied with Mickelson, who turned in a one-under 71. Harrington is in worse shape, 10 shots back in a tie for 25th, after his one-over 73 that could have been ridiculously bad.

Maybe the best part of Sunday? Woods and Mickelson are paired together. They can keep their eyes on each other, because the eyes of most everyone else will be on them.

Mickelson said it is too early to count too many of the closest pursuers out, even if it's the last day.

"I think that at this golf course, funny things can happen."

For it to happen to the Big Three, it would be more than funny, it would be borderline hysterical.

To be fair, history shows that Jackie Burke was eight shots down after 54 holes and won the 1956 Masters. History also shows that only once since 1991 has the winner failed to come out of the last pairing.

It's difficult to come to grips with the fact that Woods, Mickelson and Harrington are not in the first paragraph in any Masters conversation right now.

Is there any way this was considered likely? Sure, and the next thing you'll say is that Tiger would drive it under the trees at the first and three-putt; that he'd drive it into a collection of flowering trees at the second and hit his second shot only 12 yards; hit the flagstick at the sixth and not make birdie; three-putt the 11th; birdie three of the last six holes and then par the 18th for the first time so far?

Oh, he really did?

Mickelson followed the same sort of uneven line. Two under on the front, he quickly started the back going in the wrong direction, which would be bogey-bogey, including an ugly chip at the 11th after missing the green and a two-putt bogey. A couple of birdies stopped the wobbling; he shook off a bogey at the 17th and then started counting his chances again.

"I don't think I'm out of it by any means," Mickelson said. "I think I need to shoot a 64 or 65 and that may give me a very good chance." (In 65 rounds at the Masters, Mickelson has never shot 64 and shot 65 once).

As for Harrington, his day unraveled at the 575-yard par-5 second, where he had the misfortune of experiencing a quadruple-bogey nine. Harrington was in more trees than a woodpecker. He drove it left off a tree trunk, hit another tree and bounced the ball into a hazard, took a drop, hit the same tree again and saw the ball land in the water. He played the ball out of the creek and back onto the fairway, hit a 5-iron to the front and two-putted for a nine. Said Harrington: "These things happen you know."

We do now.

Like Mickelson, Woods wouldn't say he was done.

"I'm pretty proud of the fact I got myself back in the tournament, considering that I didn't hit as well as I wanted and had two three-putts."

And hitting the flagstick at the sixth and having the ball roll out of birdie range didn't sit too well with him, either. Someone asked what he was thinking when that happened.

"You don't want to know my thoughts."

It was left to Harrington to share his own thoughts about the end of his quest for the Paddy Slam, or for that matter, whether he was sent on a mission to beat Woods.

"I wasn't getting drawn into your guys' tournament -- trying to beat Tiger. I'm only [three] shots behind him. A fat lot of good that's doing me."