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No words were needed to convey meaning of win

Monday, April 12, 2010
By Scott Michaux
Augusta Chronicle Sports Columnist

They'll name a bridge for this one.

Phil Mickelson put on another epic back-nine display of the most daring golf to win the Masters Tournament on a pristine Sunday. Then his wife, Amy, heightened the emotion of the day with her first public appearance in 11 months and a heart-wrenching hug for the three-time champion.

Do you believe in karma?

"I'm a believer in a lot of things right now," Amy said before emotion overtook her.

It had to end this way -- especially on a week when one family's tabloid saga got upstaged in the end by another family's storybook bond in the face of cancer.

The fairy-tale finish eluded Mickelson at last summer's U.S. Open where he posted runner-up just days before Amy underwent surgery for her breast cancer.

But the Masters embraces magic like nowhere else, and this script was better than most.

"I don't normally shed tears over wins, and when Amy and I hugged off 18, that was a very emotional moment for us and something that I'll look back on and just cherish," Mickelson said.

Asked what kind of boost this victory was for a family coping with cancer, all Amy could do was nod and start crying. Words weren't necessary.

It wasn't until Tuesday that Amy even felt strong enough to pack up the children and bring them to Augusta. It's been 11 months since the family was together at a golf tournament, and the support showed in the way Mickelson's game blossomed along with the azaleas as the week wore on.

While Amanda, Sophia and Evan all joined their father for the Par-3 Contest, Amy remained at the house. The closest she got to making a public appearance was when she took their oldest to get X-rays late Saturday night after Amanda injured her wrist in a roller-skating fall.

"I needed to let this be his week and lay low," she said. "I didn't want to put him in a compromising position -- does he hit balls or take care of me because I'm not feeling well?"

The last year has been a draining blur for the Mickelsons with surgeries and treatments and daily medications that sap the energy out of a firecracker of a woman.

But their indomitable spirit prevails and continues to lift them to extraordinary moments like Sunday.

"We're just kind of figuring out the new normal," she said. "Hopefully we'll get back some of the old normal at some point."

The old normal has never left Mickelson inside (and not-infrequently outside) the ropes. His gambling nature remains a hallmark of his game.

He outdid himself this time. After putting on the most spectacular Saturday show with an eagle-eagle-birdie burst that vaulted him firmly into the picture, he didn't back off the gas Sunday.

After a string of circus pars on 9, 10 and 11, Mickelson rolled in a 20-footer for birdie on 12 that changed the game. It was a fitting place, seeing as 12 was the scene of his dramatic demise a year ago when he doubled and lost his comeback momentum.

But the best was yet to come. Standing in the needles with a two-shot lead and a pine tree not 4 feet from his left hip, Mickelson never blinked. He saw a gap in between two pines "big enough for a ball to fit through" and let her rip. No amount of pleading by his caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, would persuade him otherwise.

"That's Phil," Mackay said. "He simplifies things. Give me the club and get out of the way."

Amy was watching from home when her husband ripped inarguably the gutsiest shot in Masters lore. It's the shot they'll cast in bronze one day when they name that turfed causeway between the 13th green and 14th tee in honor of his exploits in that corner of the course this weekend (he played holes 13-14-15 in 12-under par this week).

Amy's text messages blew up when the 6-iron fired through the trees like a rifle and the ball settled 4 feet below the hole. He missed the eagle putt, but his birdie kept him two clear.

"Maybe the best shot ever!" Amy said.

Can't argue with that. Mickelson channeled Arnie Palmer and Seve Ballesteros on a day when he scrambled and charged and somehow finished with zero bogeys.

All he had to do was hold it together down the stretch with Westwood applying the pressure. It proved easier than holding it together when he punctuated the day with one last birdie on 18 and walked into the embrace of his entire family waiting behind the green -- including his mother, Mary, who is also fighting breast cancer. Phil and Amy hugged for almost a minute as the patrons applauded their most popular champion.

Mackay needed a towel to wipe away his tears. His wife, Jennifer, said it's the "most emotional he's ever been."

"He's been Phil's ear for a year," she said.

"I didn't want to look up because I knew I'd choke up if I saw her," Bones said. "I looked up after Lee's putt slid past and I was a bit of a puddle then."

The only time Mickelson wavered all day was during the green jacket ceremony as he talked about his wife.

"My wife and family has been through a lot this year and it means a lot to share this joy together," he said. "I can't put into words but it's something we'll share and remember for the rest of our lives."

So was this Masters -- the kind of drama they memorialize with monuments for those who fit regularly into green jackets.

On a week when the fickle golf gods got one right, the Mickelsons were whole again in a place they dearly love that seems to love them back.

"It was very surreal," Amy said.

It was beautiful and as close to perfect as a Masters gets.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

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