The old, old story

Neville Leck looks at the Masters and says It was the old, old story. Once more critical putts played a major role.

Neville Leck looks at the Masters and says It was the old, old story. Once more critical putts played a major role.

Yes, despite all the see-sawing fortunes of its clearly tense, white knuckled front runners, the wave upon wave of rousing roars and the endless crescendo of clapping that reverberated from its massive multi-coloured galleries, when all was said and done, one or two putts meant the difference between glory and disappointment.

Putting, a game within a game that in fact bears no resemblance to any other aspect of golf except that a club is used to strike the ball, once again made the difference in a Major.

This year not so much because of the critical putts that went in, but rather because of the ones that stayed out.

Phil Mickelson, whose brilliance on the front nine, especially with his approach irons, where he equalled the tournament record of 30 with six untainted birdies, gave him my vote as the man who should have won – no disrespect to the actual winner, the big-hitting 2007 US Open champion, Angel Cabrera

At least in my book, that is.

Brilliance of the kind he displayed on the first nine holes is what electrifies tournaments and gets the galleries screaming and whistling in excitement – and yes, it should be more worthy of greater rewards than the dour, plodding par-par-par golf Kenny Perry spent most of his afternoon playing to protect his lead.

But Perry himself did not win in the end though he too should have, had he not missed a near sitter of a putt for birdie coming down the final stretch and then, deflated for the first time in four rounds, threw away his two-shot lead with bogeys on each of the last two holes

Despite making some loose approach shots as tension and fatigue finally began to take their toll, Perry, even then, might have preserved his lead if he had been able to whisk up the kind of putting he had in the earlier rounds.

But he couldn’t.

And nor could Mickelson.

There will be those who will blame the sweet swinging left-hander’s gambling instincts for his failure to keep his thrilling momentum going on the back nine.

This because it got him into double bogey trouble at the par-3 12th hole where he threw away caution and tried to put his tee shot next to a pin placement frighteningly close to the pond guarding the front of the green, under swung with a nine-iron and plonked his ball into the water.

His chip to save par from the drop zone was a difficult one, what with the pin being as close to the water as it was and the green sloping away from it, but it wasn’t anything the finest chipper in the game couldn’t handle. Or so we thought.

Inexplicably he fluffed this shot too, sent the ball skidding all the way across the green to the back of it and put himself into double bogey territory.

This after coming back from a 7-shot deficit when he teed off at the start of the day to trail Perry by just one shot.

But the World No 2 was far from finished, even though his playing partner and great rival Tiger Woods was by now starting to make inroads on all the front-runners.

Keeping his approach shots close, he promptly picked up a birdie at the 13th and after a booming drive and a stunning approach shot which he had to fade on to the green to miss some trees, he found himself with a four foot putt for eagle that would have put him in the pound seats and sent shivers down the spines of his rivals.

At that point the 2009 Masters looked all over bar the shouting.

Incredibly Mickelson missed. He saw turn where there was none.

He missed another sitter for a birdie at 17 and that killed his hopes. This time he jabbed at the ball and saw it bobble past the lip instead smoothly and firmly rolling it into the back of the cup

Golf is such a cruel game. After all of his first-round heroics, those two nasty little putts in the 279 shots he played in all, stole away most of the glorious memories he would have had if he had only nailed them

In the end he also bogeyed the last to finish with a 67 that could so easily have been a winning 64, but by then it didn’t matter. His race was run.

Now all he can do is let his failure go, get ready for the second major of the year, the US Open which he has never won – and hope, along with a host of others, that one day any shot played on a green is reduced to half a shot.

Tiger Woods might not agree. The crucial putts that have won him so many of his titles are countless, though on this occasion his magic was missing and he never really threatened the leaders except for one or two holes coming down the closing stretch.

Tiger has still to come from behind and win a major when he has trailed after 54 holes – so the writing was on the wall, it seems, even before he teed off on Sunday.