Even as he was holing out an 8-footer for eagle on 13 on Saturday, I had to slow myself down a little bit.
Can’t go down that road again.
And then 14 happened, when he jarred a wedge.
And then he almost did it again on 15.
By then, I was a believer again.
But after Way Left Lefty threw away the U.S. Open at Winged Foot a few years ago, I told myself I would not pick Phil Mickelson to win another major until he actually, well, won another major. He tends to find a way to contend on Saturday and late on Sunday, and then dramatically fade away. And of course, I’ve broken my rule twice in the last couple of years, only to be burned badly.
Well, here he is again, at his favorite golf course in the world, a site where he has placed in the top 10 in seven of his last nine appearances.
And Lefty’s in the hunt.
So now what?
Here’s my take on who I think can win, who I believe won’t win, and who I believe will win the 2010 Masters.
Who Can Win
Lee Westwood -12 He’s the 54-hole leader, so of course he can win.
But while Westwood played the best of anyone for 2 1/2 rounds, he started to crumble a bit as soon as the Mickelson Roars started happening in front of him. Give him credit, though, he recovered. And Westwood, ranked fourth in the world and with 16 top 10s in his last 21 starts, is as accomplished they come without having won a major. But that’s precisely the point.
He’s been close, and given them away. He played his way out of playoffs at the U.S. Open in 2008 and at Turnberry last year on the last holes.
Do it again today, and the Greg Norman comparisons can start.
Fred Couples -7 One thing has to be clear before we go any further. For some of these players, they are going to need to go low and get a little help from the top of the leaderboard backing up a bit.
This is The Masters, where the roars have been restored, so that’s not exactly out of the question, especially once the leaders get to the turn. You’ve heard it often — this tournament starts on the back nine on Sunday.
But with a lot of these guys, you have to be able to go low first.
Freddie has done that already this week, leading after Thursday and then recovering beautifully on Saturday after struggling with his back on Friday.
If the back holds up and the putter does the same, Couples has the length — and perhaps more importantly, the experience — to rally to a green jacket.
K.J. Choi -8 Solid, steady and steely. Maybe he wouldn’t be a popular winner, but certainly wouldn’t be a surprising one.
Holes 10 and 11 They may be every bit as important as 13 and 15 on Sunday. While those back-nine par-5s can get you back into the tournament in a hurry (ask Lefty), 10 and 11 each have the potential to take you right out of it as well. The Masters might be won by how the champion gets through the 10-15 stretch.
Tiger Woods -8 He came real, real close to falling into the next category.
But then I remembered that he’s Tiger Woods.
Actually, he reminded me.
His game was really, really loose at times on Saturday, and he allowed his emotions to get to him around the turn. There seems to be a lot going on in his head, but then he turned everything around on 13-15, and again on 18.
Yup, he’s still Tiger Woods.
And this is still Augusta. He’s got a shot.
He’s only got a couple of guys to go through. Guys who’ve had their own issues closing the door.
Who Won’t Win
Tom Watson -2 Of course, he’s too far back, and he doesn’t make enough birdies to go low enough to storm back into it.
But what an incredible week. Again.
Ricky Barnes -6 Surely, we learned from his Bethpage Sunday last year, right?
Hunter Mahan -6 He has the ability to go low, and he’s been taking all the necessary steps a young player has to take to move up the ladder as a respected champion. But he may be too far out. His time is coming, though.
Elin Woods I wonder what she’s thinking right now.
Ian Poulter -6 Poulter was pretty much all over the place on Saturday, but kept grinding and getting himself back in range. And then he fell apart again. He’s cocky as hell, and you need that here. Not this time, but he’s close.
Anthony Kim -5 Has all the game in the world. And flying under the radar a little bit. Too far back, though.
Who Will Win
Phil Mickelson -11 Setting myself up for disaster again.
But that’s what it’s going to take for Lefty to lose — and while that is completely and utterly possible, I don’t think it happens at Augusta. His mind is different here, where he’s won twice, and the course just sets up perfectly for him.
Still, it needs to be remembered: at 5:05 p.m. Saturday, Westwood had a 5-shot lead, and yet it disappeared by 5:32. Can’t say it would be all that surprising if, say, Woods or Couples did that to Mickelson today.
As you can tell, breaking my long-held yet rarely-adhered-to rule gives me the shakes. Mickelson could shoot 67 and blow ’em away, or he could shoot 74 and give it away. And he might’ve started giving it back on 17 and 18 Saturday.
But he is in position to win.
So he can win.
Heck, he should win.
I think he will win.