Mickelson blew a three-shot lead in regulation, only to defeat Davis Love III and Frank Lickliter in a sloppy playoff at the Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, Calif. After Love was ousted on the second extra hole, Mickelson finally bettered Lickliter on the third hole of sudden death - with a double bogey.
'An awkward playoff,' said Mickelson who shot a final-round 66 to win his 18th career PGA Tour event and $630,000. 'I'm excited about the outcome.'
On the third playoff hole, both Mickelson and Lickliter drove their tee shots on the par-four 17th into the left hazard. Each played a provisional, but when both of their balls were found, the second tee shots proved to be superfluous.
The two made the trek back to the tee box and re-teed. Lickliter successfully found the fairway on what was officially his third stroke. Mickelson, however, went left again. Fortunately for the left-hander, the trees obliged when Mickelson shouted, 'Spit it out!'
Mickelson eventually found the green on his fourth shot, and two putted for double-bogey 6. He then watched as Lickliter missed an eight-foot putt to win his first career PGA Tour event; and then missed a four-footer to extend the playoff.
'I'm in shock right now,' said Lickliter while trying to hold back tears.
The playoff proved to be a stomach-churner, especially for Mickelson, who had battled food poisoning for most of the week.
All three players finished regulation at 19-under-par 269. Love could have finished the tournament on the 72nd hole, but missed a 20-foot eagle putt. He could have done the same on the first extra hole, also the par-five 18th, but this time missed a 12-foot putt for eagle.
All three men birdied the first playoff hole. Love was then booted from the contest when he failed to get up and down from the greenside bunker at the par-three 16th. Mickelson and Lickliter recorded a pair of pars to move on. As Love stepped off the course, he said, 'It looks like a disaster out there.'
On the third playoff hole, Mickelson hit first and fanned his drive into a canyon well left of the fairway. Rather than taking the cautious route, Lickliter stayed with his driver and ended up in the exact same spot as Mickelson.
Both hit provisional tee shots, thinking their balls would not be found, and both safely hit the fairway.
While Lickliter did discover his ball, Mickelson had no intention of finding his. With Lickliter making his way back to the tee box, Mickelson was ready to play his provisional. That was until someone in the gallery found his ball for him.
'Didn't I tell them not to do that,' said an agitated Mickelson as he made his way back to the tee.
This time Lickliter's tee shot was center-cut. However, the lefty once again went left. A fortunate bounce off tree limbs kicked the ball into the rough, where Mickelson was able to place his fourth shot 25 feet from the flag.
From the fairway, Lickliter stuck his approach to eight feet. You know the rest.
'It's not a normal week,' Mickelson said. 'I'll take it. Winning feels great, and it doesn't matter how.'
For Lickliter, the loss was a difficult one to shoulder. Despite birdying his final two holes of regulation for a six-under-par 66, the six-year Tour veteran failed to garner that elusive first win.
'Other than getting a little stupid, I felt I played pretty good,' said Lickliter. 'It's tough to swallow.'
Mickelson's successful defense makes him the first player to win three Buick Invitational titles - with the other coming in 1993.
The win was also sweet redemption for Mickelson, who lost last week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am to Love when he made double bogey on the 72nd hole.
Love was vying for his second straight win after ending a 62-start winless drought at Pebble. In fact, he wasn't scheduled to play this week, but changed his mind at the last minute.
'Like I said yesterday, I needed to shoot the low round of the day,' stated Love, who closed with a 67. 'That would have done it. I didn't play great, but it was fun to be there.'
Tiger Woods was in contention throughout the final round, but failed to birdie either of the two par-fives on the front nine. Though he didn't record a bogey over his final 40 holes of the tournament, Woods' Sunday 67 left him in solo fourth place at 17-under-par.
'I felt like I played all right,' Woods said. 'I got around and scored, and that's the name of the game.'
Woods has now played in seven straight PGA Tour events without a victory. He'll skip next week's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, but may play the Nissan Open in two weeks.
'I'm really looking forward to taking some time off and relaxing,' said Woods, who won the 1999 Buick Invitational. 'If my practice sessions go well, I'll play. If they don't, I'll bag it.'
News, Notes and Numbers
*Phil Mickelson's PGA Tour playoff record is now 4-1, with his only loss to Jesper Parnevik in the 2000 Byron Nelson Classic. Love is now 1-7, with his only win coming in the 1995 COMPAQ Classic. Lickliter is 0-1.
*Tiger Woods has now gone seven starts without a win on the PGA Tour, his longest such streak since he lost seven in a row in 1999 before winning the Memorial.
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