AUGUSTA -- At some point this week, Phil Mickelson will take a risk.
The defending Masters champion, energized by a victory at last week’s Houston Open, enters his 19th tournament at Augusta National Golf Club as one of the favorites to win. But favorite or not, Mickelson is unlikely to play it completely safe -- at least not going down the stretch.
“That’s just part of the decision-making process, deciding when you want to take a risk and go for it and when you don’t,” Mickelson said Tuesday. “I don’t like to put the tournament in somebody else’s hands on Sunday. I like to put it in my own control if I can pull off a shot.”
Case in point? One year ago.
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Leading in the final round in 2010, Mickelson’s tee shot on No. 13 left him behind two trees in pine straw off the right side of the fairway. His caddie, Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay, tried three times to talk him out of a 6-iron stab at the green.
“As I said to him then, there’s a point in every tournament where you have to take on some risk,” Mickelson said.
Six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus, now 25 years removed from his memorable final title in 1986, knows risk -- and Augusta National -- as well as anyone.
“In ’71 I took a risk at (No.) 15. I didn’t need to do it, but I did it anyway and knocked it in the water, then I dropped it, pitched it in the water, made an 8 on the hole and lost to (Charles) Coody,” Nicklaus said. “Finished second, then I came back and won the next year and didn’t take the same risk.
“But there are times to take it, yes. And times after you take the risk and you’re successful, you don’t think about it. You remember the times you took the risk and you were unsuccessful, and that’s what cost you the tournament.”
In the end, Mickelson took the risk on No. 13 and reaped the reward. His shot squeezed between the two trees and ended up just a few feet from the pin. A two-putt birdie kept him clear of Lee Westwood and earned Mickelson his third green jacket.
“At the time it didn’t look that hard. You know, at the time, the gap (between the trees) looked pretty good, pretty big,” Mickelson said. “What I didn’t realize was ... it was a total blind shot because I was staring right at the trunk of the tree.”
Mickelson’s shot instantly became an iconic Augusta moment, marking a figurative ‘X’ on the grounds for those who were watching.
Tiger Woods, himself the owner of one of the most famous shots in tournament history -- a remarkable chip-in on No. 16 on his way to a fourth Masters championship in 2005 -- laid out an easy explanation for the long collective memory of Masters moments.
“I think that’s what is so unique about this event. It’s the only of the four majors that we play the same place each and every year,” Woods said. “Because of that, there’s so much history that’s developed. Guys making putts, guys holing out, guys hitting good shots, bad shots. You remember a lot.”