AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson sparked loud roars at Augusta National on Sunday when golf’s two titans clashed in an epic U.S. Masters showdown.
Starting the final round seven shots off the pace it appeared as if the duo would be playing for pride more than a Green Jacket, providing an intriguing undercard to the main event featuring co-leaders Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera.
However the world’s top two players would not concede the spotlight, pulling each other into contention with a display of magical shot-making.
Mickelson and Woods briefly moved within a shot of the lead on the back nine before their title bids unraveled.
They did, though, give the galleries a thrilling ride that will stay long in the memory, world number one Woods and his four Green Jackets and number two Mickelson and his two Masters crowns going toe-to-toe on an afternoon of high drama.
As the two rivals made their way to the first tee it seemed as if every spectator was crammed around the opening hole, the air thick with tension and anticipation.
“I was hoping they would have a little boxing match,” American Perry told reporters after losing out to Argentine Cabrera on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff that also featured Chad Campbell of the U.S.
“I was in awe of what they were doing in front of me. When I saw Tiger and Phil get to 10 under I was like, wow, they must be having a lot of fun.”
After shaking hands Mickelson and Woods came out swinging, paired together in the final round of a major for only the third time.
“I don’t think we were really paying much attention to what the other was doing,” said Mickelson. “We were both more concerned about trying to make birdies to catch the leaders than what each other was doing.”
Mickelson provided the early fireworks with a record-equaling six-under 30 on the front nine featuring a run of six birdies in seven holes.
Woods stayed in touch with an eagle three at the eighth before making his charge on the back nine with birdies at 13, 15 and 16 after Mickelson had stumbled through Amen Corner, double-bogeying the par-three 12th after finding water off the tee.
The two Americans saw their charges fizzle out though when they bogeyed the 18th, Mickelson driving into a fairway bunker and Woods missing the fairway to the right before hitting a tree with his second shot.
“You just go about your own business,” said Woods after carding a four-under 68 to finish in a tie for sixth place on eight under. “I fought my swing all day and ... almost won the tournament with a band-aided swing.
“I was just terrible. I didn’t know what was going on.”
After his brilliant outward half, a back-nine 37 was hard for Mickelson to accept as he let numerous chances get away.
“If I had gotten through 12 with a par I’m right back in the tournament,” said the left-hander after his 67 earned fifth spot on nine-under, three strokes off the playoff.
“The front nine was awesome and it was fun to have a chance on the back nine.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez