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Mickelson Gets His Vacation Pay

Golf: After taking five months off, he defeats David Berganio in playoff to win Hope Classic.

January 21, 2002|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LA QUINTA — Yes, it had to happen: Phil Mickelson doesn't play a single PGA Tour event in five months, has to send out a search party to find his clubs, uses a broom to clear off the dust, then tees it up at the $4-million Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, plays 90 holes in 30 under par and wins $720,000 with a victory on the first playoff hole.

So, what's the meaning of this? It's that you don't forget how to play golf in five months.

Late August to late January is a long time for a break for a professional golfer, who makes his living by actually playing golf, not by hanging out at home with his family. But that's just what Mickelson has done. He has made a mockery of the off-season and of having to be tournament tough. What Mickelson brought to this expansive desert golf playground were booming drives, razor-sharp irons, inventive wedge shots to the green and an increasingly effective method of coaxing golf balls into holes using the putter.

Add it all up and Sunday heralded Mickelson's comeback, a near-perfect closing 64 at the Palmer Course at PGA West and a birdie on the first extra hole to turn back David Berganio. Tied for 10th when the fifth and final round begun, Mickelson toured the course in eight birdies and no bogeys. He didn't get into the lead until the 89th hole. He birdied the last three holes in regulation, then birdied the 91st hole to wrap up his 20th PGA Tour victory in the first tournament of his 10th full year as a pro. His rounds of 64-67-70-65-64 added up to a total of 30-under 330.

Afterward, Mickelson had no trouble explaining how he did it. "I've played golf, 29, 30 years, so it's not like I'm going to forget how," he said.

"It was a challenging day, though."

That was true for everyone. Mickelson climbed over 10 players in front of him with his shiny closing round, one in which players were making moves in both directions. Briny Baird, who had a 64, moved up from 18th to third, tied with Cameron Beckman, who finished with a 69. Jerry Kelly finished alone in fifth with a 67 and a 27-under total of 333. Charles Howell ended with a seven-under 65 and was four shots back in a tie for sixth with Justin Leonard, Kirk Triplett, Deane Pappas, Brandel Chamblee, Kenny Perry and Chris DiMarco, who had an unfortunate bogey-bogey finish.

Meanwhile, 54-hole leader Jay Haas shot a 39 on the back, finished with a 74 and tied for 16th. Berganio was busy moving in the other direction. He was just one under after nine holes, but made eagle at the par five 11th and added three more birdies on his way in. The last one was a six-foot putt for birdie on the 90th hole that Berganio steered straight in to tie Mickelson with a 66.

Mickelson's last three holes in regulation were downright classic. He birdied the 16th with a putt from 10 feet that broke about two or three feet off the slope. At the 17th, his pitching wedge left him 25 feet short, but he made that putt, too. And at 18, he hung a four-iron out and it just cleared the water, but landed in the rough. From there, he flopped a wedge to about four feet and made it again. "It wasn't the easiest finish, where I had a bunch of tap-ins, but I felt like I was able to get it done and that's what I'm pleased with."

The playoff hole was 18 again and while Berganio drove it straight down the middle, Mickelson found a bunker on the right side. He hit a seven iron out and had 80 yards left. But Berganio chunked a two-iron from 206 yards and it never reached the green, landing in the water in front of the green instead. After Berganio finally got it on the green, Mickelson asked him to mark his ball. The plan was for Mickelson to bounce it off the small hill on the green and get it to roll back down to the hole. A little more than a tap-in later, Mickelson had his birdie and another victory in his successful career.

Berganio, a Buy.com scrambler who has been on and off the PGA Tour in his career, is still searching for his first victory in the big leagues. "I've just got to keep trying, keep being persistent," said Berganio, who is from Sylmar. "I'm going to win and I know it, that's all that matters.

"I want to say, 'I got beat by the best.' I didn't play in Asia and Australia and beat a bunch of guys nobody knows. I want to beat the best. I'm not afraid. Phil doesn't scare me. He's a very nice guy, but I'm ready to play ... 30-under, that's pretty good."

And so was Mickelson's 30-under. His $720,000 payday moved him past $18 million, trailing only Tiger Woods and Davis Love III. It also served notice to Mickelson that all the work he did in the off-season on his short game paid off.

"This is a year that I've been very much looking forward to," he said. "The reason I'm so excited about winning this tournament is ... because what I've specifically set out to work on paid off this week."

It only took five months off to find out, too. Once the word of this gets out, see how many other players plan extended vacations between seasons.

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Top Finishers

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