Stand notice Tiger. You officially have a new challenger to your throne.
In a display of brute power, and uncanny touch around the greens, the “Hefty Lefty” Phil Mickelson won the 70th playing of The Masters yesterday thanks to a final round 69. Mickelson finished the tournament at -7, defeating Tim Clark by two strokes and a host of other world class competitors by three strokes. Phil became the 16th straight Masters champion to come from the days final pairing, where he played with fellow fan favorite Fred Couples.
The win was Mickelson’s second at the Masters, the first coming two years ago, ending years of talk of Phil as "the best player to win a major". Now … he’s won three of the last nine.
Mickelson also won last week’s tour event in Atlanta, becoming the fifth player in history to win the week before and the week of The Masters. He now has 29 career wins, and leapfrogged Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen to ascend to the #2 ranked player in the world.
Yesterday was a dream come true for golf fans. A four hour rain delay on Saturday meant the majority of the third round was set to be played early Sunday morning. And unlike in past years, Masters Officials allowed for extra television coverage, with USA picking up the third round action from 8 AM – 11:30 AM. The leader board was jam packed with the world’s greatest players.
Things were all set up for a shootout unlike anything golf fans had seen in some time, but Phil began to slowly erode all hopes for the drama golf fans wanted as his final round progressed. Mickelson played bogey free golf until a meaningless five on the par four 18, when it the title was all but wrapped up. The pack of contenders behind him was simply unable to make a charge. Fred Couples and Tiger Woods, both of whom were striking the ball beautifully, just couldn’t make any clutch putts. Tiger shot a final round 70, and his day could be summed up best by two manageable eagle putts on the each of the par fives on the back nine that he was unable to convert.
A final round 66 by two-time Masters champ Jose Maria Olazabal got him to the clubhouse at -4, posting a number many felt may be good enough four or five hours earlier. But Phil was flawless, posting four birdies and no bogeys as he headed down the home stretch with a comfortable three stroke lead for most of the time. Mickelson led the field in driving distance on this week, and was fourth in greens in regulation.
As we head into the US Open in June at Winged Foot, for the first time since David Duval’s run in 2000, there is a definite debate over who is “the man to beat”, as Mickelson will be looking for his third straight major, and third leg of the “Mickle-slam”.