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Race to the green jacket

Furman Bisher

Furman Bisher

If you were looking for a turning point in this Masters, No. 74 for those keeping count, you had several choices. You might have thought that Phil Mickleson shot his Sunday round a day early. There was no way he could have another 67 in his bag. Or it might have been Tiger Woods' tee shot on the first hole Sunday, when he flew his ball into the 9th fairway.

That was Larry Mize's misfire opening trajectory on Sunday the year he beat Greg Norman in a playoff.

And on and on, down to the 13th hole. Mickleson's time to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

He was pawing around on pine straw among the trees in the turn, side hill, trying to get a firm footing and strike a 6-iron 207 yards, over that little stream that has drowned many a hopeful challenger. I've seen a few suicidal shots in that area of Augusta National. Some have survived and some may as well have slashed their wrists. But I've never seen one like this.

A 6-IRON, 207 YARDS OFF A PINE STRAW BED? To within about 10 feet of the pin. The fact that he missed his eagle putt is beside the point. I couldn't say it was the turning point, but you can build a pretty strong case for it.

Look, there are people who don't like Mickelson. Resent him because he's too nice, sappy and respects others. Loves his wife and family, and isn't hesitant to hug them in public. And there was family all over the place when he finished the round in the twilight Sunday, and they hugged, and there were tears, for Amy Mickleson has breast cancer, and made her only appearance of the week to see her husband play into his third green jacket.

Then there are the Tiger Woods fans -- and there are plenty. Most were keeping a low profile on this, his coming-out appearance. They let themselves be heard, but not with the same kind of affection directed at Phil. Only because of the kind of game Tiger plays, not for his after-dark training routine. He came out of his cocoon at Augusta because he felt safe there, because only at Augusta do you find this kind of considerate atmosphere. No boos, hoots or caustic barbs.

He found himself dealt with politely, though the general attitude was -- play well, but for God's sake, deliver us from the sight of him in another green jacket. He was out of it by the time he made the turn, and though he turned it on along the backside, he didn't have enough gas left in the tank.

So the weekend was Mickleson's. You could say that he shared some of it with Fred Couples, for the old boy had something going.

Not a real threat, but just enough to build a nest of birdies. Irony downed him.

On the 12th hole, his tee shot hit the bank, and 18 years ago it would hang in the grass above the stream, and he would wear the green. Not this time, so his game was done.

Great Masters, with some of the loudest roars you've ever heard, some of the worst traffic clutters, some long walks for patrons from car to course -- especially elder ones -- but only those in Nike garb left with their nose out of joint. Where next, Tiger?

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer.