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Three cheers

Monday, April 12, 2010
By David Westin
Staff Writer

Phil Mickelson had plenty of thrills left in his game after all. The chill bumps came later during an embrace with his wife, Amy, who is battling breast cancer and made a rare appearance to watch her husband win the 74th Masters Tournament and his third green jacket.

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Phil Mickelson's birdie on No. 18 put the finishing touch on his bogey-free final round, the lowest by a Masters winner in 12 years, that gave him a three-shot victory over Englishman Lee Westwood.

(Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

After spectacular shots in the third round, there was concern about how much Mickelson had left. As it turned out, he had a lot, particularly on the 13th hole that will be remembered as one of the greatest in tournament history.

"To win this tournament is the most amazing feeling," said the 39-year-old Mickelson, who shot 5-under-par 67 for his 38th career victory.

Mickelson had 16 birdies as he finished second in driving distance (297.12 yards), tied for third in greens in regulation (54 of 72) and tied for 13th in putting (116 putts).

It was the 19th time in the past 20 years that the winner came out of the final pairing.

Mickelson got hot on the back nine, shooting 4-under-par 32 and turning in the lowest final round by a winner in 12 years.

Avoiding bogeys despite loose shots early on the final nine, the man known as Lefty shot a bogey-free round for a three-shot win over Lee Westwood, who had 71.

Mickelson celebrates with his wife, Amy, and their children. It was Amy's first tournament visit since her cancer diagnosis.

(Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

Anthony Kim, playing in his second Masters, closed with 65 to tie for the low round of the tournament and finish third, four behind Mickelson.

In his return to golf after a nearly five-month self-imposed break, Tiger Woods had 69 to tie for fourth with K.J. Choi (69), his playing partner all four days.

After Mickelson capped off the round with his fifth birdie of the day, he embraced his wife for nearly a minute outside the scoring hut. After the embrace ended, he shook a friend's hand and went back to his wife for one more hug.

This was the first time Amy, who is in treatment for breast cancer that was detected last year, had attended a tournament since the diagnosis.

"I was just really glad she was there," Mickelson said. "I wasn't sure if she was going to be there today. To walk off the green and share that with her is very emotional for us.

"It's something we'll look back on the rest of our lives and just cherish. I'll cherish every moment of this week."

Phil Mickelson hugs his caddie, Jim Mackay, after winning the Masters for the third time. "I'm in love with this place," Mickelson said afterward.

(Jackie Ricciardi/Staff)

Mickelson finished at 16-under 272. Only Woods, in 2001, has had a lower winning score in the past 13 years.

With his third green jacket, only three golfers -- Jack Nicklaus (with six), Arnold Palmer and Woods (four each) -- have more Masters titles than Mickelson.

Mickelson joins Sam Snead, Jimmy Demaret, Gary Player and Nick Faldo as three-time Masters champions.

"I'm in love with this place; it brings out the best in me," said Mickelson, who says he becomes relaxed when he drives down Magnolia Lane.

Third-round leader Westwood, seeking to be the first Brit to win a major since Nick Faldo in 1996, played steady golf Sunday with four birdies and three bogeys. The Englishman hasn't won a major yet, but he has finished in the top three in the past three majors.

He just couldn't get past Mickelson this time.

"Phil, being the champion he is, hit some great shots coming down the stretch," Westwood said. "He made some great shots when he needed to."

The signature shot of the victory was Mickelson's second on the par-5 13th hole. From a lie on pine straw, he faced a shot of 207 yards through a gap between two pine trees.

Even with a two-shot lead at the time, Mickelson wasn't going to back down.

"I needed to make birdie; there were a lot of fireworks," he said.

"I tried to talk him into laying it up, but he said no," said Mickelson's caddie, Jim Mackay. "Then we found out Choi made 6 (ahead of them on No. 13). I went back again. He said definitely no. He said, 'There's an opening in the trees, it's a 6-iron. All I've got to do is execute.' I said fair enough."

The 6-iron shot came out clean, split the trees and ended up four feet from the pin. Mickelson missed the eagle putt, but the birdie helped him maintain the two-shot lead over Westwood, who also made birdie.

"I was going to have to go through that gap even if I was laying up," Mickelson said. "It wasn't huge, but it was big enough to hit a golf ball through.

"It was a shot where I kept saying if I just trust my swing, I'll pull it off," Mickelson said. "A great shot is when you pull it off. A smart shot is when you don't have the guts to try it."

Said Westwood: "I was right by him -- behind a different tree. It was one of the shots probably that only Phil could pull off. I think most people would have just chipped that one out. That's what great players do, pull off great shots.

"It was incredible. He's been through a hard time recently; he deserves a break or two."

So does Westwood, who has finished in the top three in the past three major championships.

"I shot 71 at the end of the day, which is not a terrible score when you're leading the Masters," said Westwood, who came into the tournament ranked fourth in the world. "I'm delighted I finished second; if you had given me that at the start of the week, I probably would have taken it.

"But obviously I'm slightly disappointed because I came so close. One of these days the door is going to open."

Mickelson believes that, too.

"He's an incredible player," he said of West wood. "I pull for him and I want him to win his first major soon, because he is that kind of talent, that type of player and quality guy."

Woods, who started the day four shots off Westwood's lead, bogeyed three of his first five holes. An eagle on the par-4 seventh, followed by a birdie on No. 8 helped him recover, but he never got closer than three shots of the lead.

"I finished fourth; not what I wanted," said Woods, who led the field in putting Sunday with 24. "I wanted to win this tournament. As the week wore on, I kept hitting the ball worse. I hit it better on Friday, but after that it was not very good.

"I entered this event, and I only enter events to win and I didn't get it done," said Woods, who is uncertain when he will play again. "I made too many mistakes around the greens and consequently, I'm not there."

Not so for Mickelson, who started the day one shot behind Westwood before pulling even three times on the first eight holes.

Mickelson took his first lead of the day when Westwood bogeyed No. 9. He went up by two on No. 12, the same hole that derailed Mickelson's chances in 2009. That year, he came to Golden Bell one shot off Kenny Perry's lead and dunked it in Rae's Creek and made double bogey.

The birdie on No. 12 on Sunday moved Mickelson to 13-under and gave him a two-shot lead over Westwood that he never relinquished.

"I knew that putt on No. 12," Mickelson said. "It's the same putt I had (when I won) in 2004."

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

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