AUGUSTA, Ga. - A boost is on the way for the Masters television ratings after all. The audience will increase by at least one set because Phil Mickelson will be watching.
"Probably, yeah. It's an exciting tournament. I probably will," he said after missing the cut at the Masters by one stroke at 5 over par. "It's kind of my punishment."
Mickelson could have done more to pump up interest in the tournament, which will no doubt suffer because Tiger Woods is absent after back surgery. Although Mickelson does not spike viewership the way Woods does, he is the second most popular golfer and could have raised some enthusiasm with a weekend charge. But Mickelson just wasn't ready.
His uneven play, with a penchant for turning routine pars into triple bogeys, was the continuation of his scruffy, painful year. Mickelson had said he was fully recovered from the back problem that caused him to pull out of one tournament and an oblique strain that provoked him to withdraw from another. He was effervescent in his pre-tournament news conference, joking around and waxing poetic about how much he loves the Masters, which he has won three times.
So it was easy to buy into his belief that driving up Magnolia Lane was his magic elixir. Throw recent history out the window, as his coach Butch Harmon said early this week. All Phil needs is a whiff of the Augusta pollen and the feel of a green jacket on his back.
Well, don't carve that in stone, or even write it with Roberto DeVicenzo's pencil. Augusta National can be cruel as well as friendly (DeVicenzo lost the 1968 Masters because he signed for an incorrect score). The course is too hard and golf in general is too good these days to allow a 43-year-old to simply turn it on at will.
"You're not going to pick up two or three shots around here just because you want to," said Fred Couples, 54, despite the fact he made his annual mid-Masters appearance in the top 10.
Mickelson didn't have the sharpness that comes from having faced the heat of a Sunday afternoon. He did warn us on Tuesday, when he acknowledged that he was nervous because he had not won in 2013.
"I didn't play great, I didn't play bad," he said yesterday. "I keep making these triples. They're tough to overcome."
There was no getting over the 6 he made on the par-3 12th hole Friday. He did it without even dumping one ball in the dreaded water in front of the green. His put his tee shot in the front bunker, then blasted out into the back bunker, then hit back into the front bunker. Do that on a public course on Saturday morning and the group behind you gets antsy. Do it at Augusta National on Friday afternoon and you're home on Saturday morning.
This weekend will bring professional golf an uneasy glimpse of the future. To paraphrase Couples, no one becomes a superstar just because you want them to. Woods' successor, whoever that might be, has not identified himself. In this field, the only multiple major winner younger than 48 is Rory McIlroy and he just staggered in at 4 over.
Which is not to say golf is going out of business. Someone will emerge because someone always has. Meanwhile, there are enough good players to make the sport interesting and to make this weekend exciting. Take it from Mickelson, who will be watching.