On television, a camera recorded the faces of Thomas Bjorn and Steve Elkington as Mickelson was ready to hit the pitch - waiting, hoping that they would make it a three-way playoff. But Mickelsons high lob from the deep hay 40 feet away settled softly and rolled 10 feet to gimme range. Bjorn and Elkington knew it was the dagger, and their faces told an agonizing story. There was no way Mickelson was going to blow the putt - and he didnt.
Even worse, look at the final rounds in those three events - a 74 at the Masters, a 74 at the U.S. Open, a 76 at the British. And several times he was staggered by haymakers in this final round. Even of Monday in his final four holes, he faced adversity of the most cruel kind. He bogeyed 16 after popping his tee shot into a bunker ' he didnt have a 3-iron in his bag so he had to attempt to hit 4-iron. And he lipped out on 17, failing to get a birdie. That made 18 a drama of the most extreme variety.
But when he gets it down to a short pitch, you can just about forget it. And Monday thats what it came down to. Mickelson, along with Tiger Woods, has no peers when it comes to the intricate short shots. And though this one came from heavy rough, Phil made it look simple.
Well, what would you expect from a kid who faced a similar shot every time he went to the backyard to practice? He must have faced this little pitch a thousand times.
We had some pretty thick rough in our backyard (when he was a youngster), and that's exactly what I was thinking on 18, that this is no different from what I've done in my backyard since I was a kid, said Phil.
It was a chip shot that I had hit tens of thousands of times in my backyard. But it was one that I had to strike it confidently and aggressive to get the club through the rough. It was sitting a little bit downgrain, which was beneficial because it helped the ball come out a little bit faster to get there. And I think that the rain last night softened the green a little bit, so there wasn't a fear of the ball racing by the hole.
I hit it very confidently and aggressively and the ball popped out perfectly. There's still an element of guesswork, but when it hit the green, it took a bounce and rolled up to within a three foot circle which I felt very confident in.
And, at 35, Mickelson learned yet again that you cant let one, two, three or even four tough breaks kick the props out from under you. He had a three-stroke lead after the second round, led by a pair Sunday, but trailed Elkington by two deep into the final round. It was a day for grinding, and Mickelson gritted his teeth and became the ultimate grinder.
It was a week where things didn't go perfectly the whole time, he agreed. The first couple of days, the ball was going in the hole. But thereafter, it was not. Yet, I had to gut it out and just find a way to make some pars and find a way to make a couple birdies.
It was a wonderful championship with so many of the players in contention who had at least one major title ' Woods, Elkington, Davis Love, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh. All had their chances. But Mickelson was the one who repeatedly bounced back, repeatedly took a body shot and came back for more.
Hes in the middle of his prime now ' unfortunately just as Tiger is, possibly as Singh is. But at 35, he is still learning. And that is a major thing to consider when were all overlooking him as these majors are about to commence.
I thought that the thing I've learned the most, said Phil, is how important it is to control the miss and miss it on the correct side of the course and take out half of the trouble. And being able to do that allowed me to make aggressive swings.
Taking out the bunkers off the tee on 18 on the right and being able to rip that drive and go ahead and swing as hard as I want and know it's not going right - that was a big factor. I was able to do that throughout the week; even though I missed it, if you noticed, most every miss was a little bit left and I was able to play it from there.
It has made him a completely different player. He always has had a world of talent. Now, hes adding the gray hairs to go with it.
I feel like a different player, he said, not because I won the majors; I just feel like a different player than ten years ago.
As I look back and I see highlights of myself playing and I see my putting stroke on the greens at Augusta, I just think, What was I doing? The stroke was so long and I had to slow up to these greens are so fast, I had to learn to putt the fast greens better.
When I watch some of the misses that I hit off the tee or certain holes where you just can't miss it - you know, today I made four or five bogeys, but each bogey I was on the proper side to where I could get up and down. There was never an instance where I short-sided myself to the point that I had no chance to make par. And I take a lot of pride in that because that allows me, or gives me the opportunity at least, to shoot a good score.
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