Mickelson is a Major Champion

By Associated PressApril 11, 2004, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson's agonizing pursuit of a major ended Sunday at the Masters when he made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, a spectacular conclusion to a back-nine duel with Ernie Els.
Gone is that ugly streak of being 0-for-42, as a professional, in golf's biggest events. Gone are questions about Mickelson's game and whether it could stand up to the scrutiny of a major championship.
He delivered a command performance to the very end, with two birdies on the final three holes for a 3-under 69 that gave him a one-stroke victory over Els.
The putt curled into the back of the hole, setting off an enormous cheer. Mickelson jumped and thrust his fists, then kissed his ball when he plucked it from the cup.
'Oh my God!' he said as he walked off the green and into the arms of his wife and three children.
Until Sunday, he was known as the best player to have never won a major.
Now, he's simply one of the best in the game.
His awesome skills were on full display along the back nine at Augusta National, and they had to be. Els was flawless, making two eagles in his round of 67 that looked as though it would be enough to get the green jacket he covets, and the third leg of the Grand Slam.
But Mickelson was more determined than ever.
He rattled off three straight birdies to stay in range, caught Els with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th and then had the stage to himself on No. 18.
Despite a half-dozen close calls in the majors, Mickelson had never come to the final hole with a share of the lead. He never had the final say.
On this day, he refused to let his chance get away.
He smartly played 3-wood off the tee to avoid the bunkers and hit his approach behind the hole. Mickelson got a huge break with Chris DiMarco blasted out of a greenside bunker and just beyond Mickelson's ball marker, giving him the line on the biggest putt of his life.
'I just couldn't believe that ball fell in there,' Mickelson said.
Before walking into the scoring hut to sign his card, Mickelson held daughter Sophia and said, 'Daddy won. Can you believe it?'
Mickelson, who shot a 31 on the back, finished at 9-under 279. Mike Weir, whose victory last year made him the first southpaw to win the Masters, slipped the green jacket on the most famous Lefty in golf.
It was a bitter end for Els, who now knows how Mickelson has felt all these years. The big South African did nothing wrong over the final 12 holes, salvaged four crucial pars along the way and it still wasn't enough.
'I think Phil deserved this one,' Els said. 'He won this one. He didn't lose it like some of his other ones. Full credit to him.'
K.J. Choi holed a 5-iron from 220 yards on the 11th hole for eagle, kept his hopes alive with a 40-foot birdie putt on the 13th but wound up with a 69, three shots behind.
Tiger Woods was long gone before the fireworks started. He made a double bogey - this third of the tournament - on the 13th hole and shot 71, leaving him 11 shots out of the lead in a tie for 22nd, his worst finish ever at the Masters.
Woods now has gone seven majors without winning, and he has played his last five over par.
But this Masters didn't need him to deliver the drama.
With aces and eagles, so many spectacular shots along the back nine that the gallery was out of breath, it came down to Mickelson and Els in a duel as good as any at a major championship.
Els, playing two groups ahead of Mickelson, beat him on the par 5s with an eagle and a birdie.
Mickelson answered with an approach to the dangerous 14th that grazed the cup for a tap-in birdie, and a 15-foot birdie on the par-3 16th, a hole that has haunted him in the past.
'Baby!' Mickelson said as he trotted off the green, tied for the lead with two holes to play.
Playing the final hole, Els hit into a bunker so deep he could only see the hazy sky. He blasted out and said, 'Be right!' and it stopped some 25 feet behind the cup. His birdie putt turned just left of the hole.
Els was on the practice green, preparing for a playoff, when he heard the loudest roar of the day.
Mickelson made the putt. Mickelson won the Masters.
'Having it be such a tough quest, struggle, journey ... it feels that much better,' Mickelson said.
He became only the fourth player to win the Masters on a birdie putt at No. 18.
Only two other players - Harry 'Lighthorse' Cooper (31) and MacDonald Smith (24) - had more PGA Tour victories than Mickelson's 22 without ever winning a major.
Some began to doubt it would ever happen, especially since Mickelson was coming off his worst season ever. A year ago, he nearly lost his wife, Amy, during a difficult birth of their first son.
He refused to start practicing until Jan. 1, determined to put last year behind him. Now, Mickelson can look forward to many more tries at majors, without the pressure of having to win his first.
'Get used to me, because I'm going to be back every year,' he told the Augusta National members in green jackets, just like the one finally draped over his shoulders.
It wasn't easy - not over the last 12 years, not over the last 12 holes.
Mickelson and DiMarco began the afternoon as co-leaders, but came running back to the field after a good start. Mickelson took two shots to get out of the bunker on No. 5 for double bogey, DiMarco sailed over the sixth green for a double bogey.
Suddenly, the Masters was as wild as ever.
Despite two sloppy bogeys out of bunkers, Els shot into the lead and took control with a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 7, then one of the purest shots of the day - a long iron that caught enough of the slope at No. 8 to feed down to 6 feet for an eagle.
That put the Big Easy in the lead, and set the stage for the typical high drama at Augusta National.
So much for the changes taking away all the excitement on the back. This was as thrilling a Sunday afternoon as there has ever been at the Masters.
Padraig Harrington made a hole-in-one on the par-3 16th and Kirk Triplett aced the same hole a few minutes later.
Sergio Garcia whet everyone's appetite by playing the final four holes in 4 under par - one of those an eagle from inside a foot on No. 15 - for a 31 on the back nine and a 66, the lowest score of this Masters.
Mickelson couldn't help but hear it all. First came the cheers for him - 'It's your year, Phil. Make it happen!' - one man shouted. Then came the roars from all corners of the course.
The last cheer was for him. That was a first.
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - The Masters Tournament
  • Full Coverage - The Masters Tournament
  • Masters Photo Gallery
  • Arnold Palmers 50th Masters
    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Getty Images

    Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

    Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

    “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

    “The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

    The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

    Getty Images

    Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

    There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

    That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

    Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

    Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

    “We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

    But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

    The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

    That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

    Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

    “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

    While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

    For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

    “I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

    But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

    Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

    They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

    “I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

     Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

    “Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

    Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

    It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

    Getty Images

    Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

    By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

    We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

    But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

    One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

    It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

    And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

    Hey, whatever works.

    Getty Images

    Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

    Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

    The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

    “I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

    “I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”