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Masters 2024: What Tiger and Phil can work on for the next year

Woods and Mickelson need a new strategy for competition as they age
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Ben Walton

April 14, 2024

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Last place and tied for 43rd, the respective finishes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson at the 88th Masters. Of the 60 players who made the cut, they ranked 52nd and 59th in driving distance—only Jose Maria Olazabal hit it shorter. With their eight green jackets, Tiger and Phil’s collective experience at Augusta National dwarves the field and may still for some years to come. But at age 48 and 53, is it time for new strategies?

Minutes after signing his Sunday scorecard, Tiger didn’t sound on the verge of change: “Well, just keep lifting, keep the motor going, keep the body moving, keep getting stronger, keep progressing. Hopefully the practice sessions will keep getting longer.” The answer concerned his preparation for the upcoming PGA Championship at Valhalla, but revealed yet again the relentlessness that’s produced the same movie the last three Masters since his car accident. A made cut followed by a plummeting weekend. That he didn’t withdraw (as he did last year) after consecutive double bogeys on Saturday, replete with limps and grimaces, lost more than a few bets among the cynics in the press building. Whatever recipe of preparation and recovery Tiger is deploying appears inadequate for 72 holes, or more importantly, his well-being.

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Ben Walton

While Sunday’s 77 was obviously dissatisfying to its author, perhaps there’s something to build on. Bringing son Charlie to the practice range for the warm-up, acknowledging adulating fans mid-round with a smile and a tip of the cap, these are the moments he deserves. Is there a shift that might allow for more of them? Of course, it’s how Tiger can endure the misery of tournament golf that made several younger stars look comparatively soft and whiny when the winds gusted sand onto the greens Friday. We can’t know how much Tiger hurts, and only he can explore if there’s some other path that’s viable. All we do is observe: the current formula isn’t working. How much longer will he keep doubling down on the weight room? Is it sacrilege to suggest that next year, he finally appreciate having set the record for consecutive Masters cuts-made (24) and bask in that accomplishment? Bearing witness to his pain is no fun for anybody.

For years, Tiger has reiterated that he would never become “a ceremonial golfer.” It’s as if he thinks playing with anything other than a monomaniacal focus on winning means giving up. But it doesn’t. Just as he has shown with various swing changes, there might also exist other mindsets with which to be competitive. Who knows, a middle path might even lead back to winning, when and if the stars, weather and myriad factors align.

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Patrick Smith

Sunday, Phil Mickelson’s walk from the clubhouse to the first tee eerily drew no salutations until he passed beyond the rope separating general admission. Among insiders, awkward indifference might best describe a prevailing attitude toward a figure whose future as a Ryder Cup captain, witty commentator, and generally adored legend was all but recently assured until he helped initiate the game’s civil war and took a leave of absence. Of course, he’s still widely loved, especially so in Georgia in April, and the cheers resounded when his 60-yard pitch on No. 1 nearly dunked for birdie.

Great play heals wounds faster than time, and Mickelson’s T-2 in 2023 surely did a lot in the field of public relations. But until there’s authentic disclosure—a full and honest interview, for starters—a strange pall will continue to hang in keeping with his all-black clothing. He might continue to maintain the legitimacy of his certain positions against the PGA Tour about media rights, but what about his greater responsibility for the current mess that is pro golf? His only apology so far was defensive, insincere, and bent on assuaging his Saudi Arabian backers. What’s really going on in his mind, his life, his debts? Superstars can be forgiven if they allow it. When asked about last month’s PGA Tour meeting with Yasir Al-Rumayyan in the Bahamas, Phil’s final words before leaving Augusta’s grounds were curt: “Others are handling that. I’m not involved. Others are taking care of that.”

To be truly loved at Augusta National is a special thing. At two green jackets and counting, Scottie Scheffler is very well liked here. Jack Nicklaus repeatedly found ways to be lifted by the cheers of patrons when others might succumb to the momentousness of the Masters. So did Arnold Palmer. So have Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but both seem to be fumbling that energy, now a combined eight years from their last major victories.

Like Tiger’s solution to a playable amount of physical pain for 72 holes, how Phil can win back his legacy feels, for the time being, unanswerable. But in golf, and always at Augusta, we never stop hoping for miracles.

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