April 12, 2009
Choking. It's such an ugly word, so easy for those of us outside the ropes to throw around. What's the break point for considering a missed putt a choke? Inside six feet? What's the distance for considering a shanked drive or misplayed approach a choke? Into the second cut? Whatever the definition, both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson edged their way into the choke zone with their play in the late afternoon on Sunday.
Mickelson had the most stomach-churning moments of the two. After a stunning, record-setting 30 on the front nine, and with the leaders only a stroke ahead, Phil misplayed his tee shot on 12, rolling it right into the water in front of the green. Three holes later, with an eagle putt easily within reach on 15, he pulled his four-foot shot wide and lost his last opportunity to tie the leaders.
Tiger, for his part, missed an eagle putt on 15 not much longer than Phil's, and then fell apart on the final two holes of the match, first bogeying 17 following a wayward tee shot. He then looked like a Sunday duffer, clonking his approach shot on 18 square off a pine tree and into the 10th fairway, leading to another bogey, this one tournament-ending in more ways than one.
This isn't to take anything away from either of them; nobody outside of Phil and Tiger themselves seriously thought they could put themselves in contention when the leaders weren't surrendering strokes. Their play through the first half of Sunday was simply spectacular. It's their back-nine games that will have them up late for the next few nights, wondering what if.
Still, the question remains -- with the greatest tournament in golf right there waiting to be taken, did Phil and Tiger choke?