AUGUSTA — Thousands of fans swooned with every stroke as Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods charged up the leaderboard Sunday. Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera, who made up the final pairing as the day began and were the final two men standing as it ended in the twilight of a near perfect April afternoon, were treated as an opening act that just so happened to follow the main attraction.
But as the drama surrounding golf’s superstars reached its crescendo, then fizzled to an anticlimactic finish, Cabrera, Perry and Chad Campbell stormed through the back nine to steal the show they should have rightfully headlined from the start. And when Cabrera saved par on the second playoff hole to win his first Masters championship, he was every bit the day’s headliner.
For most of the afternoon, however, the drama was all about Tiger and Phil.
Mickelson drained birdies on six of the first eight holes, matching a course record for the front nine at Augusta National Golf Club.
When Woods made eagle on No. 8 to get to 7 under, his sights seemed set on erasing that pesky “He’s never come from behind on Sunday in a major” footnote from his resume.
By the time they had reached the 17th hole, the two were a combined 12 under for the day and right in the hunt. Mickelson and Woods — the owners of more green jackets than the rest of the field combined — were poised to make history.
It was great theater, but Woods and Mickelson always make for great theater. In the end, however, there were better stories.
While Woods bogeyed the final two holes and Mickelson tossed away his best chance to win by burying his ball in the water on No. 12, Perry, Cabrera and Campbell were setting the pieces in place for a finish worthy of Sunday at Augusta.
It was like a movie you didn’t know you wanted to see until you arrived at the theater and found the blockbuster was sold out.
In a sport in which the ratings in the final round are inversely proportionate to Woods’ score, golf’s other story lines proved to be every bit as entertaining as the drama stirred by its two biggest stars.
Perry didn’t play the Masters a year ago. In fact, he skipped all four majors to focus instead on the Ryder Cup in his home state of Kentucky. He came within inches of becoming the oldest champion in the history of the Masters on Sunday, but he bogeyed No. 18 to fall back into a three-way tie after 72 holes.
Campbell didn’t play the Masters a year ago either, but he is no stranger to Sunday drama in a major. In 2003, Campbell nearly claimed the PGA but instead watched Shaun Micheel drain a birdie on 18 to seal a two-stroke win. Cabrera, the chain-smoking every man whose look would never put him beside Mickelson and Woods in the leading-man category, bogeyed three of his first 10 holes to fall behind the leaders, then charged back into contention on the back nine, pumping his fist and playing to an enthusiastic crowd with each putt he drained.
By the time the three teed up at No. 18 for the second time — the first of two playoff holes — the fans who had lived and died with each shot Mickelson and Woods hit earlier in the afternoon had been caught up in the drama of a three-man playoff that didn’t need stars. It was about more than box office cache. It was about a championship.
Woods and Mickelson set the stage, but the most stunning twist was that golf’s supporting cast stole the show.
Contact David Hale at email@example.com.