Mickelson magic makes Westwood the nearly man

Flawless round propels American to an emotional third Green Jacket as world No 4’s bid to end Britain’s major drought falls short
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The contrast could not have been any more stark. Two golfing superstars with "family problems", but only one of them with an emotional victory which nobody could dare but emphasise. When Phil Mickelson holed his birdie putt on the 18th here last night to claim his third Masters title, America wept in delight. Golf at last had such a positive story to cheer.

The week which was supposed to be all about the Tiger Woods scandal ended with the Phil and Amy love story. For the first time since she was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, Mickelson's wife was at the golf course to watch him play. Amy's timing happens to be as good as her husband's.

She saw him collect his fourth major and so confirm himself as his generation's main challenger to Woods. Surrounded by their three young children, Amy – whose treatment is ongoing – was in tears as he walked up to the final green. Within a few minutes they were in each others' arms and the image flashed around the world.

"It was an amazing feeling, one of the best things we've gone through," said Mickelson, whose mother, Mary, is also battling the same disease. "The last year's been tough and to be on the other end and feel this jubilation is incredible. I'm very proud of my wife for the fight she has put up."

From a golfing point of a view, the 39-year-old knocked a lot of the stuffing out of the denouement of this enthralling drama. Augusta anticipated a nailbiting classic, instead the last three holes turned into a standing ovation for the Mickelson procession. A 67 for a 16-under total gave him a three-stroke win over Britain's Lee Westwood. His success owes so much to the fact that he did not suffer a single bogey on the final day. Yet the shot which will be ascribed "winning" status was the second on the par-five 13th.

It said so much about this golfing gambler they call Lefty. His drive ended between two trees and with water guarding the green surely there was no option but to lay up. At the stage he was one clear of Anthony Kim, whose fast-finishing 65 was the round of the week. No time to be spinning the wheel. Mickelson did not see it so pragmatically. Despite suffering a winless season so far, he cast off any insecurity and went for it. It's fair to say it came off. It plopped over the creek and ran up to four feet. And even though he missed the eagle he was two ahead and the mood was set. Mickelson was on the march on his favourite place on earth.

Westwood did all he could to push him to the line and with a three on the 17th claimed outright second for his best major placing. That birdie handed Mickelson a nervy moment as he surveyed a five-footer for par. But Mickelson coolly slotted home and that was that. So Britain's major void goes on and Westwood turns into our next nearly man. This was his third podium placing in as many majors and surely his time cannot be far away. He did not choke as he hit under par on such a tense day. Anything more would have been heroic.

Westwood was not just trying to deny America's two best-known golfers the most emotional win of their career here in the final round of the Masters last night, but also survive the heat of a glare which was forecast to be the most intense in the history of the Augusta showpiece. The word from the networks was that the ratings record of 2001 was under threat.

That was the year, of course, when Woods put finished off the unprecedented achievement of holding all four majors at the same time and so completed his famous "Tigerslam". However, a fifth Green Jacket for the returning world No 1 would have consigned that former glory to the shade. Woods went out in the second-last grouping knowing that he had never before won a major when trailing after 54 holes. Could the new Tiger succeed where the old Tiger had always failed?

He couldn't. In truth, Woods never truly threatened to shake off the rust. There were too many wayward drives, too many pulled putts. He was looking for an early charge and instead with three bogeys staged an early retreat. With Woods, however, it is never simple and on the seventh the great momentum-switcher fooled the fates. He holed his approach there for an eagle – raising his arms and flashing a huge smile in the process – and followed it up with birdies on the eight and the ninth. He had picked up four shots in three holes and when he stood on the 10th tee he was only three behind.

It was all an illusion. The ball proceeded to spray off the tee and a bogey at the 11th effectively ended his challenge. For the first time in the week, perhaps even the last five months, the focus switched to other golfers. He clawed back the spotlight on the 14th green but only for all the wrong (sporting) reasons. He three-putted from four feet, carelessly missing from two feet with the second. There was a second eagle on the 15th – the second time he had recorded a double in this tournament – and a gallery-pleasing birdie on the 18th. But the world No 1 eventually finished in fourth.

"This was not what I wanted – I wanted to win," he said. "As the week went on I hit the ball worse. Too many mistakes around the green. I entered this event to win and didn't get it done."

His words suggested a personal disaster but for everyone else this would have been a remarkable performance. Nobody should forget that the last time he had tapped in competitively was 15 November and during his period away he was in rehab. Forget the whys and wherefores and consider the sporting aspect. Woods had more than three months off without practising. And he was still able to contend until the very late stages.

For now, Mickelson can claim to be his master at Augusta. Woods has won one Green Jacket in five years. In the same career-defining period, Mickelson has claimed two. His resurgence has just added even more intrigue to the Woods return. Mickelson is America's unchallenged darling.

The Masters: Final Augusta scores

US unless stated; *=Amateur

Collated totals

272 P Mickelson 67 71 67 67.

275 L Westwood (Eng) 67 69 68 71.

276 A Kim 68 70 73 65.

277 K J Choi (S Kor) 67 71 70 69, T Woods (below) 68 70 70 69.

279 F Couples 66 75 68 70.

280 N Watney 68 76 71 65.

281 Y E Yang (S Kor) 67 72 72 70, H Mahan 71 71 68 71.

283 I Poulter (Eng) 68 68 74 73, R Barnes 68 70 72 73.

285 M A Jimenez (Sp) 72 75 72 66, J Kelly 72 74 67 72.

286 D Toms 69 75 71 71, R Moore 72 73 73 68, T Immelman (SA) 69 73 72 72, S Marino 71 73 69 73.

287 H Slocum 72 73 70 72, A Cabrera (Arg) 73 74 69 71, A Scott (Aus) 69 75 72 71, S Verplank 73 73 73 68, E Els (SA) 71 73 75 68, T Watson 67 74 73 73, B Haas 72 70 71 74.

288 M Kuchar 70 73 74 71, B Crane 71 75 74 68.

289 K Perry 72 71 72 74, G Ogilvy (Aus) 74 72 69 74.

290 Y Ikeda (Japan) 70 77 72 71.

291 S O'Hair 72 71 72 76, S Kjeldesen (Den) 70 71 75 75, C Schwartzel (SA) 69 76 72 74, F Molinari (It) 70 74 75 72, S Stricker 73 73 74 71, J Dufner 75 72 75 69.

292 L Glover 76 71 71 74, M Manassero* (It) 71 76 73 72.

294 S Flesch 75 71 70 78, C Villegas (Col) 74 72 71 77, D Johnson 71 72 76 75, R Goosen (It) 74 71 76 73.

295 Z Johnson 70 74 76 75.

296 M Weir (Can) 71 72 76 77, R Karlsson (Swe) 71 72 77 76.

298 RAllenby (Aus) 72 75 78 73, C Campbell 79 68 80 71, S Garcia (Sp) 74 70 76 78.

302 N Green (Aus) 72 75 80 75.