Mickelson ends his long wait for major glory

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The Independent Online

Phil Mickelson, who was beaten by Ernie Els in a play-off for the Junior World Championship when the two teenagers were kick-starting their careers, exacted belated revenge last night. In a tremendous climax to the 68th Masters, Mickelson, for so long the nearly-man, finally broke his duck in the major championships by sinking a 14 foot putt at the last hole.

Phil Mickelson, who was beaten by Ernie Els in a play-off for the Junior World Championship when the two teenagers were kick-starting their careers, exacted belated revenge last night. In a tremendous climax to the 68th Masters, Mickelson, for so long the nearly-man, finally broke his duck in the major championships by sinking a 14 foot putt at the last hole.

The 33-year-old from San Diego, California, had won 22 tournaments on the US tour but was known as the most successful player in professional golf never to win one of the four big ones. All that changed yesterday when Mickelson produced a stunning response over the back nine to tip Els, who had appeared to be in total control, by one stroke.

Els, who had won the US Open twice and the Open Championship, had positively plundered the par fives at Augusta National to return a 67, five under par for the day which put him at eight under for the tournament.

After posting a target of 280 Els sat by the 18th green and munched on an apple as Mickelson approached the last. The American, who had been third here in the last three years and had had 46 tilts at major championships without winning any of them had gone to the turn in 38, which dropped him from six under par to four under and he relinquished the lead to the South African Els.

A few people expected the deadly sting in the tail and on the evidence here not even Mickelson's wife was convinced he would do it. "Can you believe it?'' Amy Mickelson said to her two-year-old daughter, Sophia, "daddy's won.''

Mickelson had the perfect riposte to Els' progress when he picked up birdies at the two short holes over the back nine, the 12th and the 16th. He also gained strokes on the par five 13th but when he missed the fairway on the 500-yard 15th his chance appeared to have gone.

Forced to lay up short of the water in front of the green, Mickelson had to settle for a par five. To win he had to produce two birdies over the remaining three holes and the odds were against, but he did just that, holing a long putt on the 16th for a two and then, of course, the master stroke at the 18th which earned him a birdie three in a round of 69 for a winning total of 279.

Mickelson, a southpaw, became the second successive left-hander to take possession of the Green Jacket, following the Canadian Mike Weir, who missed the halfway cut here this time. If there were any doubt about Mickelson's ability to deliver the goods in a major championship, he dispelled them not only with the quality of his golf but also his courage.

Only three players in the history of the Masters had managed to produce a birdie at the last hole to win the tournament, Arnold Palmer in 1960, Sandy Lyle in 1988 and Mark O'Meara in 1998. Having drawn level with Els on eight under par, Mickelson hit a three wood off the tee at the 18th, sacrificing length for accuracy and the policy paid off. He was left with 162 yards to the flag.

His iron play had been particularly impressive on the homeward nine, which is where they say the tournament is always won and lost, and again he hit a near-perfect a shot, the ball coming to rest about five yards above the flag. Mickelson knew he had a great chance of making the birdie putt, particularly after his playing partner Chris Di Marco had to putt first on a similar line. It gave Mickelson invaluable knowledge and his downhill putt caught the left edge of the cup before toppling in. "Oh my goodness,'' was Mickelson's initial reaction as he milked the applause of the packed galleries around the 18th green and then hugged his family.

He had waited a long time for this moment of triumph and not even Els, who also had an impressive record at Augusta National without ever being measured for the Green Jacket, would begrudge the Californian his moment of glory.

On Easter Sunday Mickelson began his charge around Amen Corner. He safely negotiated the 11th and got a two at the Golden Bell, the notorious 12th, before producing a birdie at the 13th. That got him to six under but he was still trailing Els who seemed to have made a decisive move, exploiting his length at the par fives.

The Big Easy, as Els is affectionately referred to, took six strokes from the longest holes on the course, with a birdie at the second, eagle threes at the eighth and the 13th and another birdie at the 15th. However, he could only play the last three holes in par and that presented Mickelson with his window of opportunity. He took it in some style. Els might have moved to nine under but he drove into the fairway bunker at the 18th and although he hit a first-class shot out of the sand to the heart of the green, he failed to emulate Lyle who, famously, hit a seven iron out of the bunker before rolling in a putt for a winning birdie three 16 years ago.

Els's playing partner, the little South Korean, K J Choi, also had a marvellous back nine. He seemed to be out of contention when he went to the turn in 38 to drop to one under but he sailed home in 31 to finish at six under to fill third place.

"I still can't believe this day,'' Mickelson said, as he slipped on the jacket. "I promised my grandfather that I would win a major. He died earlier this year at the age of 97 but he knew I would fulfil my promise.''

US Masters final round scores

279 Phil Mickelson 72 69 69 69

280 Ernie Els (SA) 70 72 71 67

282 K.J.Choi (S Korea) 71 70 72 69

285 Sergio Garcia (Spa) 72 72 75 66, Bernhard Langer (Ger) 71 73 69 72

286 Vijay Singh (Fiji) 75 73 69 69, Fred Couples 73 69 74 70, Davis Love III 75 67 74 70, Nick Price (Zim) 72 73 71 70, Kirk Triplett 71 74 69 72, Paul Casey (GB) 75 69 68 74, Chris DiMarco 69 73 68 76,

288 (a) Casey Wittenberg 76 72 71 69, Charles Howell III 71 71 76 70, Retief Goosen (SA) 75 73 70 70, Padraig Harrington (Ire) 74 74 68 72

289 Steve Flesch 76 67 77 69, Stephen Leaney (Aus) 76 71 73 69, Jay Haas 69 75 72 73, Stewart Cink 74 73 69 73, Fredrik Jacobson (Swe) 74 74 67 74

290 Stuart Appleby (Aus) 73 74 73 70, Justin Rose (GB) 67 71 81 71, Shaun Micheel 72 76 72 70, Tiger Woods 75 69 75 71

291 Alex Cejka (Ger) 70 70 78 73

292 Bob Tway 75 71 74 72, Mark O'Meara 73 70 75 74

293 Scott Verplank 74 71 76 72

294 Jose Maria Olazabal (Spa) 71 69 79 75

295 Brad Faxon 72 76 76 71, Ian Poulter (GB) 75 73 74 73, Bob Estes 76 72 73 74, Jerry Kelly 74 72 73 76

296 Phillip Price (GB) 71 76 73 76, Justin Leonard 76 72 72 76

297 Sandy Lyle (GB) 72 74 75 76, Paul Lawrie (GB) 77 70 73 77

298 Eduardo Romero (Arg) 74 73 74 77

299 Todd Hamilton 77 71 76 75

300 Tim Petrovic 72 75 75 78, (a) Brandt Snedeker 73 75 75 77

302 Jeff Sluman 73 70 82 77

304 Chris Riley 70 78 78 78

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