Spieth dominates Mickelson in Masters generation gameApril 8, 2017 Opinion
Phil Mickelson is twice the age of third-round playing partner Jordan Spieth, in what felt like a changing of the Augusta guard.
When Phil Mickelson made his Masters debut in 1991, Jordan Spieth’s arrival in the world was still more than two years away.
On Saturday they played together, two Augusta specialists and the most obvious threat to the quartet of leaders going out behind.
Two holes in and Phil was on the charge, a couple of opening birdies sending him back to the first page of the leaderboard. For Jordan, two pars.
Over the next couple of hours, though, it was to be the older man whose chances of another Green Jacket receded.
And all the while his 23-year-old playing partner was methodically, inevitably, excitedly, erratically, unerringly making his way through the field.
It had taken him about 10 minutes to start repairing the damage of that first-day nine, or the length of time required to stripe a mid-iron into the heart of the 16th green and brush in the putt.
He shares the same knack of Tiger Woods in his prime, who used to be able to recover his composure after a poor shot and become preternaturally calm in time for the next one.
So it is that Spieth can berate himself and look for all the world that he has lost his cool and then make everything right again with the very next shot.
By the close of play on Friday, his account showed a neutral balance.
And yesterday, he started making regular deposits, each birdie taking him another couple of places up the leaderboard.
Spieth, like Mickelson, can be a curious golfer. For a man in his early 20s who has already won two majors in the same season while also contending in both of the others, he is capable of hitting some seriously ropey shots. Usually with his woods. Mickelson, twice his age, has been doing much the same for the whole of Spieth’s lifespan.
He misses the middle of the club face much more often than his peers, the likes of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. Or maybe that’s just the way it feels because his body language, and his actual language, is so expressive.
And yet it seems makes little or no difference. Certainly not here at Augusta, at any rate.
Before a rarer-than-rare three putt on the 16th last night, Spieth’s last dropped shot had come at the fourth on Friday. His third-round 68 got more impressive with every passing hole.
How imprecise Mickelson looked alongside him, his iron shots inconsistent, his pitches often strong and his putts sliding by. It must have have been hard to bear for the three-time champion who had made such a strong start to the tournament. After signing for a 74, his chances are over for another year.
This observation could yet turn out to be premature, but were we watching the beginning of the inevitable transformation of Mickelson the stallion into Mickelson the much-loved hero of yesteryear?
Whether he likes it or not, one day he too will be a Couples, a Langer, a Mize, a Crenshaw; loved by the galleries, still capable of rolling back the years but eventually clearing the stage for the main act.
Talking of Couples, on Friday, we had the spectacle of the veteran playing alongside Jon Rahm. The latter was not even born when the former won his Green Jacket in 1992.
Couples and Mickelson provide us with links to the game’s immediate past, as well as rich entertainment. But the future belongs to Rahm and, especially in this corner of Georgia, Spieth.
It may or may not be the case that one of them finishes the day wearing the Green Jacket. But it’s difficult to imagine them not having a say in its destination.