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Liberal Dose of Lefty

Mickelson, who took 43 tries to win first major title, suddenly has three, including the last two, after cruising to his second Masters victory in three years.

April 10, 2006|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

AUGUSTA, Ga. — As he walked up the 18th fairway at Augusta National Golf Club, another Masters title stuffed in his back pocket, Phil Mickelson could have been thinking about more than just this moment, as sunshine filtered through the stately pines.

For instance, imagine how much the questions directed at him have changed. Instead of being grilled about whether he was ever going to win a major, now Mickelson needs to be asked if he intends to win every single one he plays.

Mickelson bagged his second Masters title on a long Sunday that stretched from morning until night, holding off the rest of his peers in golf's Big Five. He closed out his third major championship with a fourth-round 69 that beat Tim Clark of South Africa by two shots.

After going winless in the first 42 majors he played, Mickelson has now won the last two, including the PGA Championship last August.

"A long day, but a wonderful day," he said. "To win a few, it's just an amazing feeling."

It's a victory streak that has vaulted the 35-year-old Mickelson into some exclusive company. The only other players to win the PGA Championship and the Masters consecutively are Sam Snead in 1951-52 and Tiger Woods in 2000 and 2001. Mickelson also is the first player other than Woods to win consecutive majors since Nick Price in 1994.

Mickelson played the four signature par-five holes at beefed-up, 7,445-yard Augusta National in 13 under par, only one shot shy of Ray Floyd's record set in 1976. He birdied the eighth and 15th each time.

His rounds of 70-72-70-69 and seven-under-par total of 281 matched the highest winning score at the Masters since Nick Faldo's 283 in 1989. Mike Weir's winning score in 2003 was 281.

Augusta National is becoming Mickelson's personal playpen. He's had eight consecutive top-10 finishes at the Masters, made $4.3 million and won twice. He has played 28 of his last 32 rounds at par or better. Mickelson pocketed $1.26 million from the $7-million Masters purse.

Not only did Mickelson rank first in driving distance at 299.25 yards, he also tied for fourth in greens in regulation.

Mickelson's strategy of carrying two drivers, one to hit a draw and the other to hit a fade, paid off handsomely, though he said he couldn't think of another course where he would use it.

Clark's fourth-round 69 featured a birdie at the 18th, where he holed a bunker shot, but Mickelson still had a three-shot lead when he made that stroll up the 18th fairway.

"I'm sure I'm the last guy he was worrying about out there," Clark said.

Clark was one shot ahead of Woods, who headlined a group of five at four-under 284, three shots behind Mickelson. Fred Couples shot 71 and joined Woods, Chad Campbell, Retief Goosen and Jose Maria Olazabal, whose 66 was the low round of the day.

Mickelson made the turn with a one-shot lead over Couples, but when Couples three-putted the 11th for bogey, it was the beginning of the end. Couples, 46, the 1992 Masters champion, was in it until a three-putt bogey at the 14th dropped him three shots behind Mickelson.

"I watched a great player win his second Masters," Couples said. "He hit the ball solid, where he was looking, and it was an easy, easy 69."

Just reaching the final act was gut-wrenching enough. The top 11 players whose third rounds were halted Saturday night because of darkness played a total of 133 holes Sunday morning to finish the round and they were a combined 16 over par.

Only Mickelson and Couples were under par in the 13 holes they had left to complete their rounds.

So when the fourth round finally began, Mickelson's one-shot lead was so precarious, eight players were within two shots of him. That's the most in 11 years, when Ben Crenshaw and Brian Henninger also had eight players within two shots.

Mickelson's 54-hole total of 212 matched the second-highest third-round score since 1966.

Woods knocked a four-iron from 185 yards at the 18th and then steered in a five-foot putt for a birdie to end the third round with a 71. He was fortunate to be within two shots of Mickelson after making three consecutive bogeys at the Masters for the first time as a pro, at the 14th, 15th and 16th, twice on three-putts and the other when he knocked it into the water at the 15th.

Campbell rolled out of bed and played his last 14 holes in three over to close out his third-round 75 and fall into a tie for second with Couples, at three-under 213.

By the time the Big Five ate lunch, hit the driving range, then walked back through the clubhouse to start the last round, there wasn't much separating them -- Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Woods, Goosen and Ernie Els were separated by only four shots, the first time that has happened in four years at the Masters.

What happened next was surprising, though it probably shouldn't have been. After all, Mickelson won the BellSouth last week by 13 shots at 28 under. Still, Mickelson's display of grace under pressure was very much like Woods, who dominated in 2002 when his peer group couldn't stay with him.

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