Phil Mickelson's major leap and two of the greatest hours in Augusta history make the 2004 Masters very rewatchable

Tod Leonard
Golf Digest

This is the eighth installment of our Masters Rewatch series, in which we watch and recap the last 23 final rounds of the Masters while we’re working from home due to the coronavirus. What better way to get your Masters fix while in quarantine than by firing up YouTube and remembering all the stuff you might have missed from past Sundays at Augusta National?

For the theater, for the story lines, for the can-you-believe-it conclusion, there has never been a greater two hours of drama than those played out over the back nine of the 2004 Masters.

You know how it ends. Phil Mickelson—with a crazy assist on his line from Chris DiMarco—coaxes a downhill birdie putt on 18 that catches the edge to fall in and sets off a celebration of Lefty’s Leap, while millions watch on television, all exhaling and uttering at the same time: “Freakin’ finally Phil!”

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For something so memorable, what we forget is just how good it all was.

Ernie Els’ gallant effort. Not a single bit of choke in the South African. One shot up heading to the 17th tee, he’s just beaten on the day by what seemed like someone else’s destiny. That he took such a wrenching defeat while munching on an apple (more later) was so classic Big Easy.

The heroics of K.J. Choi, who matched Mickelson’s Sunday 31 on a back nine with only the third eagle ever at 11 in the Masters. All the more compelling when you consider Choi butchered the back nine with a 40 on Friday after he’d scorched the front with a 30.

The extraordinary effort of Bernhard Langer, who at 46 would have been just a bit younger than Jack Nicklaus as the oldest Masters champions while joining the Golden Bear as the only players to win the green jacket in three different decades.

And if all that wasn’t enough, there were two holes-in-one in the span of 10 minutes(!) at 16 by an up-and-coming Irishman and an American journeyman.

“A day in golf that doesn’t get any better than this,” concluded CBS anchor Jim Nantz.

Let’s raise the curtain on 15 things that stirred us:

1.) The first shot we see is not from Sunday, but Saturday afternoon, when Mickelson makes a long par-saving putt at 18 to stay in a tie at the top with DiMarco, with whom he’ll be paired in the final round. That visual is all a setup, of course, for Nantz to deliver: “Will that roar await him at 18 today?”

And after a montage of past champions, Nantz lays it on as thick as Waffle House syrup: “Will the music be reserved for him at long last?”

2.) So we know the stakes. Mickelson has had trouble closing majors. He’s finished third three straight times—a bad triple—in the Masters and has yet to seize any of golf’s four biggest titles in 47 tries. He’s carried the lazy and tired title of “Best Player Never to Win a Major” for far too long. CBS shows us a graphic with some sobering perspective. With Phil’s 22 PGA Tour victories, only two other players won more without nabbing a major. The others are from days of mashies and niblicks: Harry Cooper and Macdonald Smith.

3.) Everything points to this being Phil’s year. After a slump in 2003, he’d rededicated himself. Wife Amy and infant son Evan survived a difficult birth that threatened both their lives, and with a renewed vigor, Mickelson blazed through the early schedule, opening with a win in the Bob Hope and notching an astonishing seven top-10s in eight starts going into Augusta.

<h1 class="title">Masters Second Round</h1> <div class="caption"> Arnold Palmer acknowledges the patrons in his last Masters as a player. </div> <cite class="credit">David Cannon</cite>

Masters Second Round

Arnold Palmer acknowledges the patrons in his last Masters as a player.
David Cannon

4.) Drama and nostalgia are in the air at Augusta. Early on Thursday morning in Florida, Bruce Edwards, the longtime caddie for Tom Watson, succumbs to ALS. Watson, emotional but determined, plays on and receives standing ovations on every tee and every green.

Friday features another circle-of-life moment. Arnold Palmer, slowed but cheerful at 74, makes the hike up the 18th for the final time in competition, capping his 50th consecutive Masters. Those who still carry hankies in the South badly need them in this moment. No Augusta farewell will ever be more poignant.

Later, the great Dick Enberg will sum it up as only he could: “From champion golfer to common man, he allowed us to care about the game he truly loved.”

With all this foreshadowing, do you think Chris DiMarco has any chance of winning?

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5.) Let’s dispense with the Tiger Woods coverage quickly, because we know he’d hardly mind. This is not Tiger's time. So much so that we’ll only see a handful of his shots on Sunday—absurd as that seems now. We’re told Tiger is under the weather, “sweating out the fever through the first three holes,” says Nantz—but with a sheepish birdie at 18 Woods shoots a 71 that is a lot better than a pair of 75s from earlier in the week. The T-22 is his worst finish in this, his eighth start as a pro and would continue to be his worst finish through his first 15 starts.

What’s next for Tiger? Nantz: “He’s heading to Fort Bragg in North Carolina for some armed forces training.” Lifelong dream, apparently. Would have been in special ops if he wasn’t a golfer. Sure, we’ll buy that.

6.) DiMarco and Mickelson tee off an hour early in the last group, with concerns about bad weather that never materializes. The golf plays like rain in the gutter. DiMarco drives into right bunker and Mickelson gets a huge break when his sliced tee shot kicks back off a tree and gives Lefty a stance from which he salvages par.

It would be that ragged for much of the front nine, with DiMarco falling out of the picture by shooting four over through seven, including a double at 6. The 5 at 6 is four more than DiMarco needed in the first round, when he aced it. And he nearly holed out there the next day. Mickelson, meantime, makes a fantastic bogey save at 5 after fluffing a bunker shot about three yards, and he scores two over on the front and trails Els by one going to the back.

7.) The showing by Langer is impressive. Playing alongside Paul Casey, 20 years his junior, the German, wearing a mustard shirt and black pants, chips in for birdie at 1 and hits another deft pitch at 2 for a second birdie that puts him only one back. He’s using a broomstick putter so long it nearly touches his chin and Lanny Wadkins marvels: “He’s been through the yips so many times I can’t count. I mean, ugly yips. But he’s always found a way to come back and make that putter work.”

Ultimately, it’s a tee shot into the woods at 15 and subsequent approach dunked into the water (for double bogey) that dooms Langer, who shoots 72 and eventually ties for fourth with Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard pouted his way to a 31 on the back and 66 that was the best score of the week.

<h1 class="title">Ernie Els, 2004 Masters</h1> <div class="caption"> Ernie Els at the 2004 Masters. </div> <cite class="credit">Bob Martin</cite>

Ernie Els, 2004 Masters

Ernie Els at the 2004 Masters.
Bob Martin

8.) With Mickelson faltering, Els and his charge becomes the emerging storyline. At 34, he’s already won three majors, so he’s not like Mickelson in being tortured by the big ones. But he desperately wants to win the Masters, the tournament most special to him as a kid. He’d already finished solo second to Vijay Singh in 2000.

Late in the round, and rather comically, Nantz tells us that Ernie wore another green jacket as a boy to signify his athletic prowess. Is there a winning signature tag brewing: “From Springbok green to Augusta green!” Let’s hope not.

9.) With a perfect approach at No. 8, Els makes eagle to take the lead, and he shows his nerves are in fine shape with a great chip from the back of 9 green that saves par. There will be great saves, too, from tough spots at 11, 16 and 17, and a wonderful up-and-down for birdie at 15. After the latter, David Feherty is feeling an Els victory with, “He’s got the green jacket by the collar!”

10.) There is mayhem going on all around Els. Mickelson has made back-to-back birdies at 12 and 13 to pull to within one shot. And just in front of Els, Kirk Triplett—he of the bucket hat—has been literally picked up off the ground after making an ace on 16. That followed Padraig Harrington in the previous group also scoring a 1. As Verne Lundquist gleefully points out, there were seven previous aces at 16 in the history of the Masters, and now there had been two in 10 minutes.

11.) Let’s wrap up Els first. He stepped up to the 17th tee with a one-shot lead, hit a bad hook into the trees, and then heard the roar of Mickelson’s tying birdie at 16 behind him. Els couldn’t reach the 17th green, but hit another impressive chip and putt to save par and keep the deadlock.

At 18, Els hits a too-strong drive into the farthest fairway bunker, but recovers to give himself a 20-foot putt not unlike Mark O’Meara had to win in ’98. As Els walks up to the 18th green, Mickelson’s birdie at 16 is posted on the massive scoreboard at 18.

“I guarantee you Ernie Els can figure out that roar,” Nantz says. “The place shook here for about a minute.”

12.) Before Els’ putt, CBS reminds us that only five previous players have birdied 18 to win. That’s good to know, but not for Ernie. His roll is too tentative and never threatens the cup. The crowd warmly applauds, but there’s a look of resignation on his face.

“I played the back nine as good as I’ve ever played it,” Els tells Peter Kostis. “It was fun, but very intense.”

Minutes later, we see Els slumped in a chair outside the clubhouse, munching on an apple.

“Either an apple or a nap,” quips Nantz of the easy-going big man, whose insides were no doubt churning.

13.) From the time he rolls in the birdie on 12, Mickelson never stops grinning in that goofy, endearing way of his. Nantz nails it with, “He seems to be savoring the moment, as if he knows the outcome.”

Lefty has a delicate first putt at 17, but coaxes it nicely for a tap-in par. At 18, he’s got a choice to make on club, Wadkins points out. Mickelson takes 3-wood and stripes it to the middle and short of the fairway bunkers.

Waiting to hit his approach, there is a tremendous camera shot of Mickelson, capturing the moments his face changes from smiling appreciation to a sharpshooter’s focus. We know the shot that’s coming, and Phil lands it just beyond the flag, getting a bit unlucky for the ball to not trundle closer to the hole.

<h1 class="title">2004 Masters - Final Round</h1> <div class="caption"> Phil and Amy Mickelson celebrate with daughter Amanda </div> <cite class="credit">Robert Beck</cite>

2004 Masters - Final Round

Phil and Amy Mickelson celebrate with daughter Amanda
Robert Beck

14.) Then comes the surreal moment when you realize that all of Mickelson’s major travails will be rewarded, forgiven. DiMarco, trying to mop up his 76, leaves his first greenside bunker shot in the sand. With a I-don’t-give-a-crap blast, his next shot goes over the flag and just inches beyond Mickelson’s mark. Phil is going to get a read, and even in this tense moment, everyone laughs at the absurdity of Mickelson’s good fortune. Of course, DiMarco and his claw-grip putting miss on the left edge, and Phil has all he needs to know.

15.) Much will be made later of “The Leap.” Wadkins wasn’t too kind. “The only thing he hadn’t practiced today was that jump. It needs a little work.” But it was nothing short of pure exuberance and joy when Mickelson’s putt toppled, not dived, into the left side and he jumped, his legs splayed and his arms in the air. “Is it his time?” Nantz exclaimed as the putt was en route. “Yes!” as it dropped. “At long last!”

The scenes in the aftermath were priceless. Phil hugging Amy and their oldest daughter Amanda, and then lifting young curly-haired Sophia, a pink binky in her mouth, and saying, “Daddy won! Can you believe it?”

On the spot from the Butler Cabin, Enberg didn’t disappoint in capturing the essence of the moment, weaving Palmer’s farewell to Mickelson’s triumph:

“Into those giant footsteps, there is a new Masters champion. There could not be a more deserving winner. Rejoice and relief. Phil Mickelson has his first major title."

2004 Masters — Final Round Broadcast

Originally Appeared on Golf Digest

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