Mickelson completes a major order

One-time perennial runner-up no longer coming up short on golf's biggest stages

April 11, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- After finishing third behind Tiger Woods here at the Masters five years ago, Phil Mickelson smiled lovingly at his wife, Amy, and their only child, 22-month-old Amanda, as he sat in the interview room and recounted what most viewed as another disappointment in a major championship.

Nobody seemed to believe that Mickelson, then 30, could be that happy with a career of coming close when Woods kept winning, completing what would be known as the "Tiger Slam" for a streak of four straight major victories, the first time that had been accomplished in golf's modern era.

If Mickelson was content then, he is now fulfilled. He now has three children with the additions of daughter Sophia and son Evan, and his trophy case will soon hold just as many trophies from major championships, the most recent coming from his win in the 70th Masters on Sunday night at Augusta National.

"I'm certainly a lot cheerier," Mickelson, 35, joked after winning his second green jacket in three years and second straight major with a two-stroke victory over Tim Clark of South Africa. "I'm just having so much fun playing and competing in these tournaments and being able to focus in, or try to focus in, on majors."

Now there is talk of a "Lefty Slam" as Mickelson begins his preparation for the U.S. Open at New York's Winged Foot Golf Club in June. While Woods, who finished tied for third here this year, remains the No. 1 player in the world, Mickelson has certainly assumed the mantle of Woods' closest rival.

As Woods and others faltered in the final round on the typically slick greens, Mickelson was simply steady. As Woods and others made the bad swings and had the bad luck that led to bogeys, double bogeys, triple bogeys and even a septuple bogey 10 on the par-3 12th by Rocco Mediate, who was 3-under at the time, Mickelson went bogey-free until the last hole.

In other words, Mickelson did to everyone else in contention what Woods often does, especially to Mickelson. The player whose off-course penchant for gambling in the past seemed to find its way inside the ropes was suddenly playing smart, almost conservative, golf in building as much as a four-stroke lead on the back nine.

"He was as much in control of his swing and his emotions as I've ever seen him," said Rick Smith, Mickelson's swing coach.

Going with the two-driver approach that helped him blow away the field the previous week at the BellSouth Classic, where his 13-stroke win was the biggest margin of victory since Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15, Mickelson's performance on a course that had been lengthened and toughened over the past five years was as impressive as any here in recent memory.

Former champion Fred Couples, who played with Mickelson in the final round and finished tied for third with Woods and three others, was asked what the difference was between a player who went 14 years without winning a major and one who has now won a major in each of the past three years.

"He's a much better player," said Couples, 46, who was looking to become the oldest Masters champion in history. "He hits the ball I think much better. He gets it around the golf course. I mean this is a pretty good golf course. Last week what he did was incredible and then coming in here, to shoot the scores he did. He works hard and has a great short game."

Mickelson credited Smith and short-game guru Dave Pelz for the preparation it took to get him ready for the Masters.

"When I do spend time practicing, I'm spending it on the right things to help me prepare my best and play my best," Mickelson said. "I feel as though with their commitment and my commitment to them, we are going to hopefully be able to compete and contend in future majors as well."

His victory here two years ago came after Mickelson had finished second three times in majors, twice in the U.S. Open. At Shinnecock Hills on Long Island two years ago, Mickelson led for much of the final round before a late double bogey allowed Retief Goosen of South Africa to win his second Open.

"I think it's more than whether or not you win or lose," Mickelson said. "It's having the opportunity on that final round, that final nine, to come down the stretch with a chance to win. I'm glad I was able to finish it off on the back nine [Sunday] because it doesn't always happen that way."

The scene that unfolded after Mickelson tapped in his final putt and signed his scorecard is now becoming a familiar one. He gave his wife and kids a warm hug, and then realized the green jacket ceremony wasn't a priority for some of his biggest fans.

"I think somebody wants Skittles," he said.

While Mickelson seems happy with the size of his family, the trophy case is another story.

That could use expanding.

Note -- Mickelson was better than Woods on the course, but not in the TV ratings. Final-round ratings for CBS' coverage of Mickelson's second green jacket victory Sunday were down 13 percent from last year, when Woods beat Chris DiMarco in a one-hole playoff to win his fourth Masters. The overnight rating for Mickelson's win was a 9.0 with a 19 share, compared with a 10.3 with a 21 share for Woods' victory. The ratings were up 23 percent from 2004, when Mickelson won his first Masters and CBS drew a 7.3 with an 18 share. Overnight ratings measure the 55 largest TV markets in the United States, covering nearly 70 percent of the country. Each overnight rating point represents about 735,000 TV homes. The rating is the percentage of all homes with TVs, whether or not they are in use. The share is the percentage of in-use TVs tuned to a given show.

don.markus@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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