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Mickelson sweats out win

March 16, 2009|Randall Mell

DORAL, FLA. — Phil Mickelson never slept worse on a lead.

The night before the final round of the CA Championship, he said he couldn't stop shivering after slipping between the sheets.

"I was shaking for an hour," Mickelson said. "I had the cold sweats."

Many a 54-hole leader on the PGA Tour has known this feeling, but not with Tiger Woods nine shots back.

Mickelson said a virus he has been fighting for three days worsened, requiring a trip to an urgent care center and two IV solutions to treat dehydration and heat exhaustion.

In the mercurial mind of Mickelson, he awakened 75 minutes before his tee time figuring he had his competition right where he wanted them.

"That's why they say beware the ailing golfer," Mickelson said. "I knew going in I was going to play well."

With a final-round three-under-par 69 on the Doral Golf Resort & Spa's Blue Monster, Mickelson found a cure no antibiotic could bring.

Winning a battle with Nick Watney by one shot, Mickelson closed hard Sunday to claim the $1.4-million first-place check. He finished at 19-under 269.

With his first victory in a World Golf Championships event and 36th on the PGA Tour, Mickelson believes he has found the remedy for what has been ailing him in the majors.

With the Masters only a month away, Mickelson, 38, is radiating with confidence in his rebuilt swing. He has won twice in a month and vaults today to No. 2 in the world rankings, closer in points than anyone has been to No. 1 Woods in almost four years.

Woods closed with his second consecutive 68 in his first stroke-play event in nine months, but he was well back at 11 under, tied for ninth.

Mickelson, a three-time major-championship winner, hasn't given himself a chance to win another major since bouncing his final tee shot off a hospitality tent at the 72nd hole at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open.

"Phil's going to be fun at the Masters," said Butch Harmon, the coach who has helped revamp Mickelson's swing.

Protecting a one-shot lead down the stretch, Mickelson slammed the door shut on Watney (70) with two brilliant closing shots on the Blue Monster's famed 18th hole, the most difficult finishing hole on the PGA Tour this year.

Mickelson confidently slammed his final drive 296 yards through the wind and into the heart of the 18th fairway, then guided a six-iron that nearly bounced into the hole, setting up a 26-foot two-putt that would clinch the title.

It wouldn't come, though, without some drama. Watney's final 30-foot birdie putt to tie died just a half-turn from the hole.

"I honestly thought it was going to make it to the front edge," said Watney, 27, who won the Buick Invitational five weeks ago. "It kind of stinks to play well and get beat."

Mickelson's day wasn't without challenges. After making birdie at the eighth hole to take a two-shot lead, Mickelson watched Watney hole an 80-foot chip at No. 9 and make eagle at No. 10 to take the lead.

Mickelson birdied No. 10, but at the 12th hole, after pulling his tee shot under some brush, the left-hander turned his eight-iron around and swung right-handed, swatting the ball out. He knocked it off a tree but out of trouble. It was the kind of gamble that has backfired on him before.

"I wasn't trying to be showy, I just didn't have a choice," Mickelson said.

Mickelson made bogey there, and so did Watney, his second in a row, and Mickelson never lost the lead again as both players finished with six pars.

That Mickelson would win on the Blue Monster was somehow fitting. This is where he first united with Harmon two years ago to revamp the swing that cost him his chance to win his fourth major at Winged Foot.

"He came here filled with so much confidence, it's unbelievable," Harmon said.

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rmell@sunsentinel.com

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