Judging by the recent results of golf’s two most prominent players over the past two decades, the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson era seems to have come to an end.
Mickelson is coming off the least successful season of his career in 2014, and began 2015 with three nondescript efforts in tournaments he has won multiple times, missing the cut in the last two.
Woods suffered through an injury-plagued 2014, and when he returned to action early this year, his recurring back problems flared up again, forcing him to withdraw from his second start of 2015. When healthy the week before, Woods sprayed his tee shots all over the lot in the Phoenix Open, and put on almost embarrassing chipping display, alternately skulling and chunking short game shots one after the other.
His response was to take a break from the PGA Tour, which included skipping his hometown tournament (Honda Classic). He did not qualify for the WGC event at Doral and his return to the tour was uncertain.
There is always the chance one of the two will regain a semblance of past form and put a halt to the discussion about their era coming to an end, but Woods may be done before reaching his 40th birthday, and age and a suspect putter may finally be catching up with Mickelson, who turns 45 in June.
During their careers, Woods and Mickelson have made their biggest impact in Augusta, combining for seven Masters titles and 21 top-5 finishes. From 1996-2013, at least one of the two finished in the top 10, and no Masters from 2000 on did not have one of their names (usually both) in a prominent position near the top of the leader board.
Until last year.
The 2014 Masters began without an injured Woods in the field, and Mickelson exited Friday afternoon after missing the cut, his first MC since 1997.
For almost two decades prior to last year, Woods and Mickelson were Augusta’s dominant figures, compiling surprisingly similar results over that span. Upon closer examination, however, their Masters records have a few distinctions, and on the 20th anniversary of the first time one of the two made an impact in the tournament, here is a look back at their Masters histories to date.
Mickelson, by 5 ½ years the older of the two, made his Masters debut as an amateur in 1991, and made the cut in his first attempt after an opening 69. Woods also made the cut in his first Masters in 1995, matching par his first three rounds before closing with a 77.
That was also the year Mickelson made his first of many runs at victory in Augusta. He shared the lead after an opening 66 and began the final round just two shots back of Ben Crenshaw and Brian Henninger. Mickelson went double bogey-bogey on holes 6 and 7 and his hopes of a first green jacket were dashed. He shot 73 and tied for 7th, six behind Crenshaw, who shot 68 the final day.
Mickelson again started fast the next year, firing a 65 on Thursday, a score he has never matched in 18 subsequent trips to Augusta. But Greg Norman stole the headlines that day with a record-tying 63, and Mickelson never really factored in the tournament, failing to break par in the next three rounds. He wound up third outright, just one shot behind runner-up Norman, who lost the most lopsided final round duel in Masters history to Nick Faldo, who closed with a flawless 67 to turn a 6-stroke deficit after 54 holes into a 5-shot victory.
That tournament effectively ended the European era in Augusta, which began in 1980 with the first of two victories by Seve Ballesteros. Faldo’s comeback victory in ’96 was the 10th by a European player in 17 years, and Jose Maria Olazabal made it 11 for 20 in ’99.
But that turned out to a last gasp for the Euros, who have not won in Augusta since. A new Masters era was launched two years earlier, when Woods stamped himself as the first serious challenger to Jack Nicklaus for the title of Best Golfer of All Time.
In the most dominant performance in Masters history, Woods shook off a 40 on his first nine Thursday, playing his final 63 holes in 22-under par. After a 30 on the back nine that afternoon, Woods shot 66-65-69 the next three days, with his 18-under 270 the lowest in tournament history, and his 12-troke margin of victory eclipsing the Nicklaus mark of nine, set in 1965 when he shot 271 to run away from the two other members of golf’s Big Three – Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
The next three years were quiet ones in Augusta for both Woods and Mickelson, who combined for four top 10s and never finished lower than 18th. Mickelson was within two after 54 holes in ’98, but struggled on the back nine Sunday. He was on the fringes of contention going to the final round the next year, but played the first six holes in 4-over, more than offsetting six birdies the rest of the round. Woods shot 40 on the back nine that day to fall out of the top 10.
The next 10 years in the Masters were all about Woods and Mickelson, who won three times each and contended on an almost annual basis. It began in 2001 with the most dramatic head to head battle between the two, with soon-to-be British Open champion David Duval adding to the mix.
In one of the most exciting Masters final rounds that has seemingly faded from memory, the three staged an epic Sunday shootout that unfortunately fizzled at the end. Woods led Mickelson by one after 54 holes, with Duval three back in a tie for fifth. Duval made it a three-way battle when he birdied seven of the first 10 holes.
Duval birdied the 15th to tie Woods for the lead, but promptly bogeyed the 16th and missed birdie chances at 17 and 18. Mickelson, playing with Woods in the final group, also birdied 15 to get within one of the lead, as Woods missed a short birdie putt on the hole. But Mickelson also bogeyed the 16th and Woods wrapped up his second Masters title when he birdied the 18th for a 68 with six birdies to finish two ahead of Duval (67, eight birdies) and three in front of Mickelson (70, six birdies).
The next year had none of the final round fireworks. Woods began Sunday tied with Retief Goosen, with Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Mickelson and Olazabal all in contention. None of them shot lower than 71 and Woods went unchallenged, with the most memorable occurrences that day a triple bogey by Els on the 12th and a 9 on the 15th by Singh.
Mickelson placed third for a third straight year in 2003, shooting a final round 68 to finish two shots out of the Mike Weir-Len Mattiace playoff. Going for a three-peat, Woods was over par in three rounds and barely made the cut before shooting 66 Saturday.
Going to the fourth round in 2004, Mickelson shared the lead with Chris DiMarco, but was overtaken by Els, who eagled the 13th to move three ahead. Mickelson proceeded to birdie five of the last seven holes, edging Els by a shot when he barely slipped his birdie try at the 18th into the hole. Woods shot a pair of 75s and was again no factor.
Woods collected his third Masters title in five years in ’05, with DiMarco again a major part of the Sunday drama. He was in control of the tournament until Woods ran off seven birdies in a row in the third round, part of a 30-hole stretch in which he was 15-under. With DiMarco shooting 41 on the back nine early Sunday morning to compete the third round, Woods was three ahead with 18 holes to play, but was fortunate to make it into a playoff after being decisively outplayed by DiMarco in the final round.
Leading by two with two holes to play after his Verne Lundquist-immortalized chip-in birdie at the 16th, Woods hacked his way to bogeys on the final two holes before three perfect shots on the 18th produced a playoff birdie and his fourth (and likely final) green jacket.
Mickelson won for the second time in three years in ’06 in decidedly un-Phil-like fashion. After trailing by four shots after 36 holes, he took the 54-hole lead after a 70 in tough weather conditions, and closed with a mistake-free final round 69, with his only bogey of the day at the 18th reducing his victory margin from three to two.
The 2007 Masters is remembered for being played under the most difficult conditions in Augusta in decades, with Zach Johnson winning with a 1-over 289 total. Mickelson was no factor and tied for 24th, but Woods let an excellent chance for a fifth green jacket get away. He was handed the lead early in the final round, but apart from an eagle on 13 did nothing all day and lost by two to Johnson, who shot 69 with six birdies, four on par 5s after layups up on all four.
Woods again finished second in ’08, but was never within striking distance, as Trevor Immelman was in complete control the final two days and won by three. Mickelson contended for 36 holes before a 75 on Saturday and tied for 5th.
Although Mickelson and Woods finished 5th and 6th in ’09, what they did on Sunday is remembered as vividly by those who witnessed the final round as the events that led to a three-way playoff between Angel Cabrera, Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell.
Mickelson and Woods began the final round seven shots off the lead and were paired together about an hour in front of the leaders. Mickelson birdied six of the first eight holes to close within one shot of the lead, but his hopes ended when he double-bogeyed the 12th. He tried to rally with birdies at 13 and 15, but missed a short eagle putt at the 15th and another for birdie at the 17th, and ended his day with a bogey, turning a possible 62 into a 67 and a fifth place finish, three out of the playoff.
Woods overpowered the par 5s with three birdies and an eagle, and after a birdie at the 16th was within striking distance of the leaders. But he closed with consecutive bogeys and wound up four shots back in a tie for 6th.
Just two months before his 40th birthday, Mickelson had one more burst of Augusta heroics left in him in 2010. He outdueled Lee Westwood on the back nine Sunday, carding four birdies on the final seven holes for a final round 67 and a 3-stroke victory. He also provided one of the greatest stretches of golf in tournament history on Saturday, when he eagled the 13th, holed out for eagle on the 14th and lipped out his eagle pitch after having to lay up on the 15th.
Woods hung close to the lead from start to finish, but 10 bogeys Saturday and Sunday offset 17 birdies and four eagles, one coming on the 7th hole Sunday, and he tied for 4th, five behind Mickelson.
The 2011 Masters featured one of the wilder final round shootouts in Augusta, and Woods was one of the main participants. But after a sizzling 31 on the opening nine, including a birdie-birdie-eagle stretch on 6, 7 and 8, his charge fizzled and he settled for even par with just one birdie on the back nine and tied for 4th, four behind Charl Schwartzel, who closed with four consecutive birdies.
Mickelson made a meek defense of his title and tied for 27th.
It was Woods’ turn to struggle in 2012, and he finished 40th, his worst showing as a pro in Augusta, while Mickelson made what may have been a last-gasp effort to match Tiger with four green jackets.
Two disastrous triple bogeys, one on the 10th hole Thursday the other on the 6th Sunday, marred an otherwise superb tournament for Mickelson, who made just two bogeys over his final 54 holes and shot 68-66 Friday and Saturday with a 30 on the back nine in the third round to close within one of the lead. He tried to rally after the triple on Sunday, playing the final 14 holes in 3-under without a bogey, but settled for a tie for 3rd, two shots out of the playoff.
Woods took himself out of contention with a triple of his own in 2013. An 8 on the 15th Friday led to a 40 on the back nine and a 73 after a strong showing to that point. He never got back into serious contention, finishing 4th, four out of the Adam Scott-Cabrera playoff after a mild Sunday surge.
Mickelson has had two of his three worst Masters showings the last two years, missing the cut in 2014, with Woods sitting out with one of his many recent injuries.
Although their overall Masters records are nearly identical, there are a few distinctions between the two during their careers in Augusta.
Woods has never pulled off a come-from-behind win in the Masters, nor has he managed any late heroics to pull out a victory, with his playoff victory necessitated by two ugly bogeys that cost him a 2-shot lead with two holes to play.
Two of Mickelson’s three Masters victories featured spectacular Sunday back nines to take down two of the game’s best players, beginning with his 72nd hole birdie to break a tie with Els.
Both have had several opportunities to add to their victory totals, but can count only one Masters each they probably should have won but didn’t.
Whether either gets another serious chance to take home another green jacket is not looking promising at this time, but Mickelson almost won the last major played after a forgettable 2014 season. As for Tiger, his last major championship was the 2008 U.S. Open when he was 32, younger than when Mickelson won his first major.