Phil Mickelson had been a disappointment in 97. He had won early at Bay Hill and later won again at the Sprint International. But for a 27-year-old just waiting to make his splash on the Tour circuit, a man who had won four times in 1996, 1997 had not been particularly noteworthy for Mickelson.
At the Mercedes Championships in 1998, both of those trends would change. Mickelson would scorch La Costa for a 66 the final round and win the Mercedes Championships. And Duval, who was trying to be the first to win a tour event four times since Ben Hogan did it in 1953, would stumble out of the throne room with a Sunday 76.
Duvals problems on Sunday began with a balky putter. He missed from kick-in range on the first hole ' 2 feet. His problems continued at the second green when he missed a birdie from four feet. And he magnified his problems with misses from eight feet on the next two holes.
Mickelson himself realizes the importance of putting. It is putting, he says, that almost always separates the winners from the others. Equipment has advanced to the point that virtually everyone can keep the ball in play. So many strike the ball well and have their misses in play, he said. Ultimately, what I see it coming down to is who putts best each week.
Mickelson, though, was playing so well that he hardly noticed Duvals miscues. He had owned a one-stroke lead as the day started, and though he was challenged by those close pals from Orlando ' Tiger Woods and Mark OMeara ' he was not going to fold on this day.
Woods, playing in front of Mickelson, had a 64 on that day and actually took the lead with a 12-foot birdie on No. 12. But Mickelson refused to back down, making birdie at four of the next five holes beginning with the ninth and lasting through the 13th to lead by two strokes.
Woods made it close with an eight-foot birdie at No. 15, but he couldnt take it any deeper than that. He bogeyed No. 16, giving Mickelson the luxury of making a bogey himself coming in that was inconsequential.
OMeara, like Woods, posted a 64 but both finished a shot behind Mickelson. Duval? He finished in sixth, six shots behind.