Mickelson makes it look easy at the Masters
AUGUSTA, Ga. ” Phil Mickelson is a Masters champion again, and now he’s making it look easy.
Once known as a lovable loser who needed a dozen years to figure out how to win golf’s biggest events, Mickelson captured his second straight major Sunday at Augusta National ” and this one was hardly a nail-biter. He closed with a 3-under 69 for a two-shot victory over Tim Clark, and his second green jacket in three years.
The only surprise was the way he won.
There were no thrills for Phil, rather calculated shots that forced Fred Couples, Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh to try to catch him. Instead, they stumbled along with three-putts and a litany of other mistakes that allowed Mickelson to stroll up the 18th fairway already knowing how this major would end.
He won his first major at Augusta two years ago with an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole. He added the PGA Championship last year at Baltusrol with a flop shot out of deep rough to 2 feet for another decisive birdie on the final hole.
Mickelson’s only bogey on a breezy afternoon at Augusta National came when it no longer mattered. He missed the 18th green to the left, chipped to 20 feet, then settled for two putts and subdued celebration.
There was no need to leap with arms thrust into air, as he did two years ago. Gone was the look of utter shock on his face.
He plucked the ball out of the cup with a smile, removed his visor and waved to the crowd. He spent the next few minutes with his three children draped around his neck, and headed into the scoring trailer.
“In ’04 when I won, I felt this great feeling of relief that I could win the tournament I dreamt about,” Mickelson said. “This time, it’s a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment to have been able to beat such a great field.”
The rest of the Big Five was lined up behind him, all within four shots going into the final round.
None could touch him.
Mickelson finished at 7-under 281 and earned $1.26 million, putting him atop the PGA Tour money list. The victory also moved him up to No. 2 in the world ranking behind Woods.
Mickelson emerged as a major threat to Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 victories in Grand Slam events. This was the third straight year Mickelson has won a major ” Woods is the only other player to have done that in the last 20 years. Only five others have won majors in three straight seasons since the Masters began in 1934.
Clark holed a bunker shot from across the 18th green for birdie that left him alone in second with a 69.
Woods, who was trying to become the first player to twice defend his Masters title, could only blame his putter. He had two eagle putts inside 15 feet on the back nine and missed them both, and he had six three-putts this week. He holed a 25-foot birdie on the 18th hole that just about made him curse, although it gave him a 70 and a tie for third.
“I putted atrociously today,” Woods said. “As good as I hit it, that’s as bad as I putted.”
At the green jacket ceremony, Mickelson asked the crowd for a moment of silence to pray for Woods’ father, Earl, who could not travel to Augusta for the first time because of cancer.
Woods said he would talk to his father Sunday night, and joked that “he’s probably a little mad at how I putted today.”
Joining Woods at 4-under 284 were Couples (71), Retief Goosen (69), Chad Campbell (71) and Jose Maria Olazabal, whose 66 was the best score all week on the super-sized course.
But it was Couples who had the best chance to challenge Mickelson, and had he won, it would have been especially poignant.
This is the 20-year anniversary of Nicklaus’ stunning back-nine charge to win his sixth green jacket at age 46. Couples was poised to become the oldest Masters champion, and he hung with Mickelson until his putter betrayed him.
First came a three-putt on the 11th, his 3-foot par putt spinning around the cup. On the 14th hole, Couples had a 4-foot birdie putt to pull within one shot. It caught the lip and spun 6 feet away, and he missed that one, too.
Mickelson poured it on with an eagle chip that caught the lip on the 15th, and steady pars the rest of the way until the 18th.
Then it was off to Butler Cabin, where Woods slipped the green jacket on Mickelson’s shoulders.
“Great playing,” Woods told him.
If Woods bothers to watch the highlights, it should look awfully familiar.
The last time Augusta National was overhauled to add length, Woods built a big lead and let an All-Star cast of contenders collapse around him with shots into the woods and the water.
The course was stretched even more for this Masters ” at 7,445 yards, the second-longest in major championship history. Mickelson played it impeccably. The longest par putt he had all day ” besides the meaningless one on the 18th hole ” was the 5-footer he made after a solid bunker shot on the 10th.
“I knew it was going to be a tough day,” Mickelson said. “Fred and I kept saying how much fun it was to be in the final group at the Masters. I was sorry to see what happened at 14. I think we would have had a great duel coming down those last four holes.”
Mickelson won for the 29th time on the PGA Tour, tying him for 17th on the career list.
And he became the first Masters champion since Sandy Lyle in 1988 to win the week before coming to Augusta. Mickelson captured the BellSouth Classic last week by 13 shots.
This one was closer, but it sure didn’t seem that way.
He took a one-shot lead into the final round by making the fewest mistakes Sunday morning, when the rain-delayed third round was completed in cool, mostly calm conditions. Mickelson shot 70 and was at 4-under 212, the highest 54-hole score to lead the Masters since 1989. Couples shot 72, making two birdies on the final four holes to get into the final group.
The possibilities were endless.
Ten players were within three shots of the lead, a list that included Woods and Singh. Ten more were within five shots of Mickelson.
But no one did anything to bring Augusta National to life with the drama so many expected.
There was a five-way tie for the lead early in the final round ” Mickelson, Couples, Campbell, Rocco Mediate and Miguel Angel Jimenez ” all at 4 under before making the turn. But it didn’t last.
Mickelson took the outright lead with a long pitch to the par-5 eighth that checked up 2 feet behind the hole for birdie, and everyone else either stalled or spiraled, none worse than Mediate. He hit three balls into Rae’s Creek on the par-5 12th ” two from in front of the green, one from the bunker behind it ” and made 10.
Campbell had a three-putt bogey on the 11th and hit into the water on the 15th trying to reach the green in two. Jimenez fell out of the chase with bogeys on the 10th and 12th, and Clark was lurking until a bogey from the bunker on the 12th.
Mickelson was untouchable, just like Woods was in 2002 after the first big course renovation.
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