Tiger's toughest defeat, a septuple-bogey 10 at Rae's Creek and the best of Phil: The 2006 Masters Rewatch
This is the latest installment of our Masters Rewatch series, in which we watch and recap the last 23 final rounds of the Masters while we’re working from home due to the coronavirus. What better way to get your Masters fix while in quarantine than by firing up YouTube and remembering all the stuff you might have missed from past Sundays at Augusta National?
Ever watch a hyped film that boasts an incredible cast, a dynamic story, captivating cinematography and a happy ending … and yet you walk out of the theater thinking, “Wait, was that any good?” As you replay the movie in your mind, it dawns on you the characters were underdeveloped, there was too much exposition and too little drama, and the ending was a slow burn. You don’t dislike the film; quite the opposite. It’s just, it could have been better.
Well, with that in mind, welcome to the midnight showing of 2009’s “Public Enemies” 2006 Masters Rewatch.
1.) Our opening shot is from the front veranda to the American flag as Jim Nantz exclaims, “The skies have turned golden over Augusta!” Forget Madison at the Constitutional Conventional or Hendrix at Woodstock. No man has been more at one with his arena than Nantz at the Masters. And not to be morose, but Nantz is turning 61 this May. Might be time for CBS to bring Jim into the studio and pre-record opening salvos for the next 50 or so Masters. We can speech synthesis the names and dates. But we can’t lose those tasty overtures.
Yes, you’re damn right I’m advocating for Hologram Jim Nantz.
2.) Our first shot is of Tiger Woods finding the fairway at the first. The third round had been completed earlier on Sunday, and Woods had uncharacteristically stumbled on the back nine, carding three consecutive bogeys on Nos. 14-16 before bouncing back with birdie at 18. Woods entered the day tied for fourth at two under with five other players, two strokes behind …
3.) Phil Mickelson, who is warming up on the range in what appears to be a rain suit. Wait, nope, those are just his slacks. Even Fred Couples, the king of cool who is paired with Phil in the final twosome, appears to be rocking harem pants. I remember Jesper Parnevik ridiculing American golfers for their baggy clothes in the early Aughts, comments that were mostly ignored. Were we really supposed to take fashion advice from Parnevik, a guy who wore checked trousers and Wesley Snipes’ “White Men Can’t Jump” cycling hat? But time has proven Parnevik correct. If only we weren’t so busy swimming in our clothes, we might have seen his ways.
4.) What a leader board heading into the final round. The top five players in the world—Woods, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Mickelson and Ernie Els—were all within four shots of the lead. Couples is a Masters legend. Chad Campbell, who started the day T-2, was No. 20 in the world with three top fives on the season. Darren Clarke, tied with Tiger at two under, was No. 15 in the world. There was also a Stephen Ames appearance! Yes, this was the year of the infamous “9 and 8” Match Play clocking, yet we often forget Ames won the Players Championship a month later. Which begs the question: Does history owe Ames an apology?
“I think he understands now.” I take it back. Let’s not waste words on souls that cannot be saved.
5.) Viewing the lens of the present, it is jarring to remember a time when a leader board didn’t mirror a Mr. Universe contest. Phil, Clarke, Campbell, Miguel Angel Jiménez, Tim Clark, Ángel Cabrera … if you’re trying to argue those are the physiques of athletes, the sport must be beer softball.
6.) Let’s be frank: This Masters hasn’t resonated through the years. There was no magical Sunday run, no defining shot or moment. Disappointing given the tournament’s lore and reputation, especially so given the cavalry of high-profile contenders.
The course had been lengthened to 7,445 yards, correlating to seven under standing as the winning score, tied with the 2003 Masters as the highest since 1989 (little did we know what was awaiting in 2007). Completing the end of the third round Sunday morning might have taken the gas out of some tanks: There were numerous missed putts, approaches that were good when they needed to be great, guys stuck in neutral when they needed to be hauling tail. It is a final round best remembered for what didn’t happen.
7.) A sentiment best encapsulated by Tiger. He would birdie the second. His next red figure wouldn’t come until the 13th, with two bogeys in between. By that point he was six strokes behind. There was a mini-run with birdies at 13, 15 and 16, but Verne Lundquist doused the audience before it could get riled up (“Three back, but only two to play,” sighed America’s favorite uncle). A bogey at 17 officially put the kibosh on back-to-back aspirations.
Woods struck it well, hitting 15 greens. The short game was another matter. He finished with a two-under 70, 33 of those strokes coming off the putter. Tiger finished three back, a performance he called one of the toughest swallows of his career.
“I’ve lost tournaments before, and I’ve been through some tough defeats over the years, but nothing like  because I knew my dad would never live to see another major championship,” Woods said in 2013. “At the time, going into that final round and on the back nine … I pressed and I tried to make putts that, instead of just allowing it to happen, I tried to force it.
“I know he was at home watching, and just really wanted to have him be a part of one last major championship victory. And I didn’t get it done.”
Earl Woods passed just three weeks after the 2006 Masters. Though he missed the cut at the U.S. Open, Woods would go on to win the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
8.) I misspoke. There was one competitor who made a spirited charge: José María Olazábal. Ollie made seven birdies and an eagle in route to a six-under 66. He’d finish T-3, three shots back, done in by a first-round 76. I remember thinking at the time this was a turn-back-the-clock performance, but research shows Olazábal was only 40 and No. 16 in the world. In short, go easy on the Natty Lights when you’re in college, kids.
9.) This is not to say the tournament was a snoozefest. Mickelson and Couples both toured the front with bogey-free 34s, Phil in the lead at six under with Freddy at five, and Clark, Campbell and Rocco Mediate were right there at four under. But Campbell bogeyed the 11th and Clark the 12th, essentially knocking them out of contention. Mickelson stayed out of trouble, and Couples was not long for the tournament (more on this in a moment). Basically, what was supposed to be this glorious display of adventure and pitfall and roars and heartbreaks turned into a one-man, off-Broadway show of Moby Dick. As for our man Rocco …
10.) Spieth’s Splashes remain very much alive. You know of Tom Weiskopf’s 13. We covered Jeff Maggert’s 12th hole collapse earlier this week. This is the second time in three days I’ve used Dan Forsman in a sentence, meeting my Forsman quota for the decade. But what happened to Mediate at Golden Bell hasn’t rung as loudly as other Rae’s Creek victims.
Rocco’s tee shot hit the bank of 12 green, and unless your name is Fred Couples, we know how that song and dance ends. His third from the drop area is barely airborne before he’s asking for a reload, his ball making it halfway across the creek. At this point the cameras cut away for two minutes; they return to show Medidate’s fifth at impact, only the announcing crew has it wrong, it’s his seventh shot, as his fifth also found the water. The seventh reached the back bunker, and he can’t get up-and-down. For those of your scoring at home, that is a septuple-bogey 10.
“Nothing is safe here,” Mediate said afterwards. “There are too many bad things that can happen to you if you’re not playing good golf.”
Mediate turned in an 80, dropping to T-36. “That was the best 71 holes of golf I’ve ever played.”
11.) Sorry, I needed three minutes of unadulterated Fred Couples swing highlights to snap back into it.
12.) At the 10th, Mickelson, in the front-right bunker, gets up-and-down from 25 yards out. I know you know the TV cameras don’t do the Augusta undulations justice … but my word, even by Phil standards, that save was medieval.
13.) Couples three-jacks the 11th for bogey to bump Phil’s lead to two. Freddie’s long birdie attempt at the 14th hit and spun out of the hole, and his missed the clean-up, the bogey widening the gap to three. His par at the 15th, coupled with birdies by Phil at 13 and 15, puts this tournament on ice. Couples hit an impressive 16 greens on the afternoon, but like Tiger, was buried by the putter, racking up 34 strokes on the greens. To Fred’s credit, he was 46 years old; he would have nipped Jack Nicklaus as the oldest Masters winner had things not gone south on the back.
“I’m 46. I don’t really feel 46,” Couples said. “I didn’t hit the ball like I was 46. I putted like I was 66.”
14.) By the numbers, the 16th wasn’t drastically different in 2006 (3.13 scoring average) than it was last season (2.90). And yet only two of the final 12 players made birdie at Redbud. Now it feels like a player is losing one to the field if they don’t make 2. I’m not saying Augusta National has Bugs Bunny using a magnet under the green, just that, I’m not not saying Bugs is doing work.
15.) “Boring” is not a disposition associated with Phil Mickelson, but that’s ultimately how he rendered the 70th Masters. He played the first 17 holes bogey free, making sand saves at the first, second, ninth and 10th holes and picked his spots, birdieing three of the four par 5s. For a guy known for his wildness off the tee, he kept the ball in play. His 2004 Masters finish packed more fireworks and his 2013 Open at Muirfield was an exercise in fortitude, but in terms of discipline and control, Phil was operating on a different plane at Augusta in 2006.
It was his second straight major win, and came a week after he won the BellSouth Classic by 13. For the briefest of moments, it appeared the sport finally had the Tiger vs. Phil rivalry it had been desperately seeking.
And in an alternate reality where the 72nd hole at Winged Foot doesn’t happen, maybe that comes to pass. But in our world, it did, and Woods responded by winning the Open and PGA that summer, along with six other tournaments, and the clash never fully materialized.
Yet on that Sunday at Augusta, Mickelson gave the game a masterclass in command. It wasn’t as colorful as patrons wanted it to be, but Phil walked away wearing the only color that mattered Sunday night.
2006 Masters—Final Round Broadcast