AUGUSTA, Ga. — As Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth ascended the 18th fairway on Sunday afternoon at Augusta National, the 54-hole leaders — Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm — were just beginning their back nine on the adjacent 10th hole. This convergence of Masters leaders and fan favorites made for one of the largest swarms of patrons you will ever see in this area of the course. Forget about moving freely, you could barely breathe freely, with on-lookers packed shoulder to shoulder, many eight or 10 deep, bobbing and weaving and straining for a peek at Spieth and Mickelson as they closed out their fourth rounds in this 87th Masters.
When Spieth and Mickelson began their rounds roughly four hours earlier, no one could have predicted this scene around the home hole. Spieth had begun the round one under for the tournament, 10 back of Koepka’s lead. Mickelson’s hole was just as deep. “Anything” can happen on Masters Sunday — well, yeah, but not 10-shot comebacks.
And yet the towering leaderboard that faces the 18th green told an unlikely story:
All of the players’ scores were in red, signifying they were under par. Spieth had caught Koepka and was only two back of Rahm; Mickelson was one was back of Koepka and three back of Rahm. Spieth’s charge had been powered by nine birdies, including six in his previous 10 holes; Mickelson’s had been fueled by seven birdies, including four in his last six holes.
On 18, Spieth was tapped out of magic — he snapped his tee shot into the trees at 18 and made bogey to drop back to seven under — but Mickelson had one more rabbit. From 169 yards out, he stuck his approach to 11 feet then poured in his eighth birdie of the day, raising his putter skyward a couple of feet before the ball vanished.
If the Augusta faithful resented Mickelson’s defection roughly 10 months ago to LIV Golf, in this moment you would not have known it. The crowd roared — the kind of throaty, echoing roar that gives you chills. Mickelson beamed and pumped his fist three times. He celebrated with his caddie and brother, Tim. As Phil walked toward the back of the green, he flashed his trademark sign of gratitude — a thumbs-up — in every direction.
“It became a really exciting group,” Spieth said after the round. “It felt very, very like eight, nine, 10 years ago.”