The 16th hole at Augusta National, a scenic but treacherous 170-yard par-3, did more than decide the 65th Masters. The hole defined the winner, Tiger Woods, and the losers, David Duval and Phil Mickelson.
With apologies to Colin Montgomerie and his gazillion European tour money tides, Duval and Mickelson are the best players never to have won a major championship. You would wager a bundle that these two would win a bunch of them, if they weren't teeing it up against a man-eating Tiger. Duval, 29, has 12 Tour victories but is now 0 for 25 in the majors. Mickelson, 31, has won 18 times on Tour but is 0 for 31 in the big ones. They played well enough to win last week—Duval finished minus 14, Mickelson 13 under—but, as usual, they didn't, because Woods, at 16 under, was a little bit better.
Duval, who began the final round three strokes behind Woods, birdied seven of the first 10 holes on Sunday, while Mickelson, who started one back, piled up six birdies. That wasn't enough, and now their futures in the majors look as promising as that of the act that followed the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. In his last four Masters, Duval has come in second, sixth, third and second, respectively. In seven years Mickelson has two thirds, a sixth and two sevenths. He also has a second and a fourth in the U.S. Open and a third in the PGA. Clearly, winning a major these days is tougher than picking a good tech stock—unless your first name has stripes.
Which brings us to the microcosmic 16th hole on Sunday. Duval, at 15 under par, was tied for the lead when he arrived at the tee. The pin was in its usual final-round spot-back left, where it was when Jack Nicklaus nearly aced the hole en route to winning in 1986. Duval had 183 yards to the pin. He chose a seven-iron, and flew it over the green. "I don't have an explanation," Duval said. "I can't hit an eight-iron there. The minimum carry is 176 yards over the bunker. I hit it so solid I didn't even feel the shot. To be honest, I thought I might have made a 1. The shot I equate it to is the five-iron I hit" on the last hole in Palm Springs when I shot 59."
Duval was left with a delicate chip down a steep, slippery slope and made a good play, stopping his ball seven feet past the cup. The putt was his tournament. If he missed and Woods did the expected and birdied the par-5 15th, Duval knew he would be two shots down with two holes to play. He missed.
Mickelson came to 16 trailing by a shot. He had just jammed in a crucial 12-footer for birdie, while Woods, who had hit two beautiful shots to reach the 15th, had inexplicably three-putted. "He had made birdie and put it right in Tiger's face," said Rick Smith, Mickelson's coach. "It was time to stuff it in there, but Phil didn't."
Mickelson, a left-hander whose normal shot is a left-to-right draw, pulled his seven-iron shot. His ball landed on the green pin-high, but on the edge of a steep right-to-left slope. Thanks to the hook spin he had put on the shot, the ball burrowed into the upslope and stayed there, leaving Mickelson a parabola of a putt. "In retrospect Phil needed to go right at Tiger," Smith said. "If he hits it in the lake, he hits it in the lake."
Woods hit a right-to-left draw. His ball landed inches from where Mickelson's had, but because of its right-to-left spin it released down the slope, leaving him a straightforward 30-footer. Mickelson's curving first putt crept seven feet past the hole, giving him a comebacker similar to Duval's. Mickelson also missed. Woods two-putted, and that was that. "Sixteen was a real killer," Mickelson said. "Not only was I not looking at making that putt, I was also going to have a tough time two-putting, which I did not do." Bottom line: Woods executed the shot that was called for at 16. Duval and Mickelson didn't.
For the week Mickelson made 25 birdies, more than any other player in the field. Duval made 23, same as Woods. Mickelson, though, missed a handful of short putts and had eight bogeys and two doubles. Duval, who missed makable putts on the final three holes, finished the week with seven bogeys and one double. Woods had seven bogeys. "Tiger has a microchip in his brain," Smith said. "When something goes bad, he thrives on it like no other player. Phil can't make mistakes against a guy like that, and he knows it."
What do these guys have to shoot—other than Woods—to win a major? Mickelson's closing 70 was his best score ever on Sunday in the Masters. Had he shot a 69, he would have become the first player in tournament history to have four rounds in the 60s, and he still would have lost. That was food for thought as Mickelson returned to Phoenix for a three-week break with his wife, Amy, and their 22-month-old daughter, Amanda. (The Mickelsons are expecting their second child in November.)