AUGUSTA, GA. – Golf has reached a turning point. Like most turning points, this one offers the chance to reminisce or regret, to hope or worry.
For the first time in 20 years, they held a major championship at Augusta National and neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson played on the weekend. If they weren’t missed for much of the Masters, as youngsters and seniors vied for attention, they were missed Sunday afternoon, when their play inevitably draws the eye, whether they’re making eagles or rinsing golf balls in Rae’s Creek.
Their old selves might be missed for a long time.
Woods hasn’t won a major since 2008 and is recovering from back surgery, perhaps the most devastating procedure a golfer can undergo. He no longer holds his old advantages of length or intimidation, and he has dedicated at least part of his life to raising his children, raising questions about whether he will ever regain the fierce dedication that separated himself from so many of his peers.
Mickelson, at 43, is past his prime and, as Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee noted this week, has lost club-head speed, robbing him of distance.
Neither is what he once was, and that’s a shame, because they never became, together, what we had hoped.
Either could win another major or win another Masters, but the odds of them appearing again at the same Masters ceremony have greatly diminished.
We hoped for a rivalry, for two players who vied for so many of the same majors and who never liked each other to duel on back nines for decades. It rarely happened anywhere, and it never really happened at Augusta National, and that’s strange and sad.
Woods won the Masters four times. Mickelson won it three times. They even draped the green jacket over each other’s shoulders, yet they avoided each other on Masters weekends the way feuding neighbors avoid eye contact at the grocery store.
If the dream of seeing Woods and Mickelson in the final pairing on Sunday at the Masters is dead, what’s left?
This year’s Masters offered a hint: unpredictability.
On the final leaderboard this weekend was a self-taught bomber (Bubba Watson), a 20-year-old who hits it short and straight (Jordan Spieth), a Swede who plays with stereotypical European flair (Jonas Blixt), a 50-year-old cigar aficionado who defines European flair (Miguel Angel Jimenez), a potential American star (Rickie Fowler), veteran grinders such as Matt Kuchar and Lee Westwood, and one of the Latest Next Tigers (Rory McIlroy.)
This weekend, for the first time in 20 years, the casual golf fan couldn’t flip on the television on Masters Sunday and look for the scores of Mickelson and Woods.
We might have to get used to this. We might have to accept that the rivalry we craved will never be.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org