Above the crowd

Mickelson pulls away from elite challengers to win 2nd green jacket

The Masters

April 10, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There was no two-footed leap or two-fisted pump, no deep sigh of relief after years of frustration. That was the way Phil Mickelson celebrated his first victory at Augusta National and the first major championship of what had been a star-crossed career.

The stars are no longer crossed for Mickelson. They are perfectly aligned, as evidenced by what Mickelson, 35, did in winning the 70th Masters yesterday with a final round of 3-under-par 69 and a four-round total of 7-under 281. It was his third major victory and second in a row after last year's PGA Championship.

Unlike the first two, which each came down to the left-hander making a birdie putt on the final hole of regulation, Mickelson had built a three-stroke lead going into the par-4 18th, where he made his only bogey of the round to win by two shots over Tim Clark of South Africa.

Five players - four-time and defending champion Tiger Woods, two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, former champion Fred Couples, two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa and Chad Campbell - finished tied for third at 4-under 284.

The caliber of the contenders he held off was as gratifying as the win itself to Mickelson.

"It felt incredible, having the three-shot lead and knowing that victory was at hand," said Mickelson, who also became the first player in 18 years to win the Masters after winning the week before, in this case a 13-stroke runaway triumph at the BellSouth Classic. "It was very stressful in 2004, but it felt very, very different today.

"The difference is that I felt a sense of relief after I broke through and won a major and today I felt this great feeling of accomplishment to beat guys like Tiger and Ernie Els and Vijay [Singh] and Fred and some incredible and talented players. And to come out on top, it's a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment."

Starting early in the morning three strokes behind Chad Campbell for the conclusion of the rain-delayed third round, Mickelson took a one-shot lead over Couples and Campbell to the first tee in the afternoon, found himself tied after Couples birdied the opening hole and grabbed the lead for good with a birdie on the par-5 eighth.

The lead grew to two strokes when Couples bogeyed the par-4 11th, to three when the 1992 champion three-putted from inside 5 feet for bogey on the par-4 14th and to four when Mickelson nearly chipped in for eagle on the par-5 15th before settling for another birdie, one of four he made in the final round.

"When 14 happened where he ended up having a little mishap there, you don't want to win like that," Mickelson said. "If he knocks that first putt in, we would have had one heck of a time that final four holes, and I wanted to see that happen. As much as I wanted to win this tournament, I was sorry to see that happen."

Couples, at 46 and 6 months, was looking to become the oldest champion in Masters history 20 years after Jack Nicklaus won here for the sixth time at the age of 46 and 3 months.

"I'm disappointed, but I liked the way I played and it was a lot of fun," Couples said. "I'm certainly tired now, but I made it through 31 holes [played yesterday] and hung in there a long time."

The same can be said for Mickelson in terms of his career. After coming close several times in majors during his first 12 years on the PGA Tour, including three seconds and finishing third six times, including here on three occasions, Mickelson has won a major in each of the past three years, joining Woods as the only players to do that in the past 20 years.

The victory was the 29th of his career for Mickelson, who became the 16th straight Masters champion to play in the final group of the day. It also puts him halfway to the record of four straight major championships that Woods finished here in 2001 after winning the last three in 2000.

"Well, let's settle down Grand Slam talk and stuff," said Mickelson, who will be a huge fan and betting favorite at the U.S. Open in June at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y., not far from where he won the PGA Championship last summer at Baltusrol in Springfield, N.J. "You call it the Tiger Slam, to hold all four majors, incredible."

Woods was never a factor yesterday. After nearly playing his way off the leader board with his first-ever string of three straight bogeys at the Masters on the back nine of his third round, Woods climbed back into contention by finishing the round with a par save on the 17th hole and a birdie on the 18th to start two behind Mickelson.

A birdie on the par-5 second pulled Woods within a stroke, but he immediately missed a chance to tie for the lead when he pulled a 6-foot putt for birdie on the par-4 third. Woods then narrowly missed a 40-footer for birdie on the par-3 fourth and missed a 4-footer for par on the par-3 sixth.

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