2004: Phil Mickelson wins first major at Masters
All those major questions about Phil Mickelson were answered Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club, from his poise under pressure to his coat size.
At 6:43 p.m. Mickelson slipped on a green jacket (size 43 long) and finally took his place in golf's pantheon as a major championship winner.
The world's most lovable runner-up, winless in his previous 46 major starts, capped a spellbinding final round when he rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt to win the 68th Masters Tournament by a shot.
"To have it be such a difficult journey to win my first major makes it that much more sweeter," said Mickelson, who joined three other players who birdied the 72nd hole from the final group at Augusta National to win.
"When you finally do achieve that goal, the harder the struggle, the greater the reward," Mickelson said.
An hour later, when Mickelson walked into his news conference, he pointed to his wide smile and then his green jacket and said, "This and this are not going anywhere, baby."
"I'd like to say to members of Augusta National: Please get used to me, because I'm going to be back every year," Mickelson said earlier at the awards presentation.
As a champion, Mickelson is an honorary member of Augusta National.
The last time the winner birdied the 72nd hole to win the Masters was 1998, when Mark O'Meara did it. That was also the last time the Masters fell on Easter Sunday.
The 33-year-old Mickelson battled back from a rocky start (2-over par through six holes) to play his final 12 holes in 5-under to finish with 3-under-par 69.
It barely overshadowed a thrilling day that included two eagles by runner-up Ernie Els , holes-in-one on No. 16 by Padraig Harrington and Kirk Triplett, and K.J. Choi's 220-yard 5-iron shot for eagle on the par-4 11th hole.
Mickelson's brilliant play (he led the field in greens hit in regulation with 53 of 72) turned back crestfallen South African Els, who shot 67. Choi (69) finished third, three back of Mickelson.
Spain's Sergio Garcia had the low round of the tournament, a 66, and finished tied for fourth with Germany's Bernhard Langer (75), six back.
Mickelson, who opened with 72 and followed with three 69s, came home in 9-under 279. That's two shots lower than last year's winner, Mike Weir, a fellow left-hander.
Mickelson made it a record sixth straight major that has been won by a first-timer. That's almost as long as it's been since Tiger Woods, the world's top-ranked player, won a major. He shot 71 on Sunday to tie for 22nd place, his seventh straight major without a win - and his worst finish in the Masters since he missed the cut as an amateur in 1996.
The $1,170,000 first-place check increased Mickelson's PGA Tour-leading total to $3,488,600 this season and moved him to fourth on the all-time money list with more than $27 million.
It was the 23rd victory of his 12-year career and second in a season where he's been in the top 10 in all but one of his nine starts.
On Sunday, Mickelson shot 2-over 38 on the front nine and fell as many as three shots behind Els, who trailed by three at the start of the day.
But Mickelson birdied two of the final three holes to come home in 5-under 31. That's one shot off the back-nine record by a winner, set by Gary Player in 1978 and matched by Jack Nicklaus when he won the 1986 Masters at age 46.
"I don't think that any Masters will ever compare to the 1986 Masters, but to me, this one does," Mickelson said.
Mickelson had finished second in three major championships and was third in five others, including the past three Masters.
"I'd normally keep this speech pretty short - but I don't get this opportunity very often," Mickelson said at the awards presentation.
"I don't know of anything that would make us happier than you winning your first major at Augusta National," club and tournament Chairman Hootie Johnson told Mickelson.
Now Els knows how Mickelson feels. Mickelson had lost major championships when Payne Stewart (in the 1999 U.S. Open) and David Toms (2001 PGA Championship) made par putts of a similar distance to Mickelson's birdie putt Sunday. Some loose play in the final rounds of other majors cost Mickelson chances at titles.
"I guess Phil deserved this one," Els said. "He played great down the stretch. He won this one. He didn't lose it like some of his other ones. He won this one, and full credit to him."
Fortune smiled on Mickelson on the 18th hole, when playing partner Chris DiMarco 's fourth shot finished three inches behind Mickelson.
"Because it was such a fast putt, I had a great look at his entire putt, every inch of break," Mickelson said.
After DiMarco's putt missed the cup, Mickelson's hung on the left lip of the hole before dropping in.
"Chris' ball was hanging on that left lip, and when it got to the hole it just fell off," Mickelson said. "And my putt was almost on the identical line. It was hanging on that left lip. Instead of falling off, it caught that lip and circled around and went in."
"Oh, my God," Mickelson said as he walked off the 18th green into the arms of his wife, Amy, and their three young children.
Els, who finished two groups ahead of Mickelson, was on the nearby putting green when he heard the roar for Mickelson's putt.
"You're there in another guy's hands; there's nothing you can do," Els said.
Els, a winner of three major championships, had two eagles in six holes (Nos. 8 and 13) and three birdies, but couldn't get birdie putts of 17 feet on No. 17 and 14 feet on No. 18 to drop.
"I would have loved to have made some more putts," Els said. "I keep saying that, but that's how it was this week.
"As I said last night, I was going to keep the faith and keep going," Els said. "It just didn't work out for me."
Mickelson said he felt his breakthrough would come this week. Els thought he was going to be the winner before the tournament started.
It appeared it would come to pass when Els took the three-shot lead on the back nine.
"I always had a sense that this was my year," Els said. "I just felt it from Thursday."
Els was 6-under for the final 36 holes but 2-under on the first 36.
"I just didn't quite get my game going the first couple of days," Els said.
It was the 14th straight time the Masters champion has come from the final twosome.
That streak appeared in jeopardy after Mickelson shot 38 on the front nine (DiMarco had 39 and shot 76 to tie for sixth place).
Mickelson's early problems started on the fifth hole, which he entered even-par for the day. He failed to get his second shot out of the greenside bunker and was fortunate to make bogey. He also bogeyed No. 6 to put him at 2-over for the round.
That would be Mickelson's last misstep. On the back nine, he scrambled for par on No. 10, then birdied Nos. 12, 13, 14, 16 and 18.
"I didn't get off to the best start, but when I started to get to Nos. 7 and 8, those holes I could take off," Mickelson said. "I didn't birdie them, but things started to change. I looked at holes as birdie opportunities, and it ultimately clicked on No. 12."
Mickelson made a 12-footer on No. 12, two-putted for birdie on the par-5 13th from 20 feet, made a one-footer on No. 14, a 15-footer on No. 16 and the 18-footer on No. 18.
Els made his eagle on No. 13 just minutes before Mickelson hit his shot on the devilish par-3 12th. That put Mickelson three shots behind Els.
"I heard the roar, and I figured he'd just made eagle," Mickelson said. "I took a pretty aggressive line at that pin. I knew I was three back when I was facing that putt. If I could make that putt on No. 12, all I'd have to do was birdie No. 13, and I would be within a shot with five to go. And so, when that putt on No. 12 went in, that's when I started to feel like I could make this happen."
When Mickelson hit an 8-iron on No. 16 to within makeable birdie distance, his confidence took another leap.
"When I was walking to the green on No. 16, it didn't seem overwhelming," Mickelson said. "I thought, 'I'll make this putt and I'll birdie one of the last two.'"