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Arnold Palmer: Rivalry made Augusta ‘perfect’

Golfer Arnold Palmer appears as a guest speaker for a charity golf tournament on Tuesday at the Alotian Club near Little Rock, Ark.

Golfer Arnold Palmer appears as a guest speaker for a charity golf tournament on Tuesday at the Alotian Club near Little Rock, Ark.

ROLAND, Ark. – Arnold Palmer can appreciate a good rivalry, even if he’s not part of it.

Palmer, whose duels with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were memorable, shared some thoughts Tuesday on this month’s Masters.

Angel Cabrera won the tournament, but not before Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson thrilled the crowd by playing their way back into contention while paired together in the final round at Augusta National.

“It wasn’t planned. It happened. I think the fact that they were playing in Augusta and doing the things that they were doing . . . I think that’s what Augusta’s all about,” Palmer said of the Woods-Mickelson show. “I thought it was perfect. If you had set it up, you couldn’t have set it up any better.”

Palmer and Mickelson were both on hand Tuesday at The Alotian Club outside Little Rock, appearing in conjunction with the Jackson T. Stephens Charitable Golf Tournament. Palmer spoke in the morning, and Mickelson put on a brief clinic in the afternoon for some youngsters.

The charity tournament is named after Jack Stephens, the late billionaire, philanthropist and former chief executive officer of Stephens Inc. He also was at one point the chairman of Augusta National.

Mickelson tied a Masters record with a 30 on the front nine of the final round, but he lost his momentum on the back nine and finished three shots behind. Woods was another shot back.

Cabrera ended up winning in a playoff over Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell.

“It was a fun day. I enjoyed the front nine a lot. The back nine I wish I had played better,” Mickelson said Tuesday. “I thought it was an amazing finish. A lot of things happened.”

Before this year’s Masters, there were concerns that Augusta National had become too tough. That wasn’t an issue this year. Campbell set a Masters record by opening the tournament with five straight birdies, and the crowd was roaring throughout the final round.

Tuesday, Mickelson was asked to re-enact his approach on the seventh hole, when he powered a shot around trees to about a foot from the hole to set up a birdie. He hit a high hook for the Alotian audience.

“This year, Augusta played easier than it’s ever played,” Mickelson said. “The greens were soft. I haven’t seen that, ever. That shot that I hit on seven that stopped by the hole – that ball normally wouldn’t stop.”

Hours earlier, Palmer had expressed a similar sentiment.

“It isn’t as much fun when they’re not making birdies and eagles at Augusta,” Palmer said.

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