Mickelson marches to Masters win and threatens Woods' rule

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The Independent Online

The anticipated crescendo turned into a one-man virtuoso. But sometimes the sweetest sound can emanate from a single pair of lips. And to America nothing touches the ears so gracefully as a Phil Mickelson victory speech in the Butler Cabin.

In donning his second Green Jacket in three years and winning his second major in a row after last August's USPGA, Mickelson did more than simply prevail from a Masters leaderboard which rivalled the very best of them. The 35-year-old established himself as unarguably the biggest threat to Tiger Woods' hegemony. Because only the world No 1 could have strode away with the style and confidence that characterised Mickelson's final-day 69.

When he tapped in for his seven-under total there were two shots back to South Africa's Tim Clark, who staged something of a grandstand finish of his own when holing from a bunker on the 18th to claim outright second. In third came a group including Woods and a brilliant Jose Maria Olazabal. But even the Spaniard's best-of-the-week 66 paled into insignificance behind Mickelson's march.

He was not totally unaccompanied, though, not nearly. Indeed, until Fred Couples' putter committed the golfing version of hari-kari by jerking itself at a litany of tiddlers, Mickelson appeared in for a fight with his great friend. But then the 46-year-old went backwards and everyone else stayed where they were. Meanwhile Mickelson was putting his foot down and it was all over in a gear change.

There were a few shots to remember from the Californian ­ the iron under the trees and over the water on the par-five 13th for one ­ but none of them spectacular. Rather it was his peerless control of both his club ­ particularly his putter ­ and his temperament that will stick in his mind. This beast is a different animal from the naïve one of a few years ago. The old Mickelson would have chucked everything he had at it and might very well have paid. The new Mickelson understood when it was time to hold back.

As he set off for yesterday afternoon he pointed out that the winner had played in the final grouping for the past 15 years. Mickelson knew the significance of this Augusta truth even if the feverish masses did not.

A frenzied morning finish to the rain-delayed third round had made this a leaderboard to die for, to sigh for, to suffer agonising cramps on the edge of the seat for. As the final round began there were 21 within four shots of the lead, 28 within six, and even when the field had all turned for the decisive nine there were still 14 within five. And even those further behind had been shown by one former champion what could have been possible at Augusta.

Beginning at two over, Olazabal was considered too far away to make an impact, being six back on Mickelson. But since his opening 76, the 40-year-old had plugged on relentlessly, first with a second-round 71 just to make the cut, and then the same score in the third round to venture into at least the same county lines as the pacesetters. Seemingly with every stride thereafter they became ever larger in his sights. Five birdies in the first nine hauled him into the minus figures, although the bogey on the par-three sixth looked to have denied the charge of any serious momentum. But still Olazabal pressed on. Then came the strike of genuine beauty. His five wood from 246 yards from the middle of the par-five 15th fairway was a contender for the shot of the week ­ in fact any week ­ landing over the lake guarding the green and rolling up to 18 inches.

The tap-in eagle made him seven under for the day and put him one behind Mickelson. Furthermore, the course-record 63 was in his compass although his arrow was plainly pointing at a third Green Jacket. The three-putt bogey on the 16th did no good for either and although his par putt from 12 feet on 18th was as accomplished as it was nerveless the challenge had come up short. "I knew it wasn't enough. Those three putts on 16th killed me," he said. The thought that a return to the Ryder Cup in September now appears a certainty was just one consolation he could take on with him.

Others were not so fortunate. Woods for instance returned to his personal torture of worrying about his gravely ill father, Earl, with not a great deal to comfort himself professionally. Sure the world No 1 remained in contention until the very critical stages, but third is not nearly enough for this proud competitor, especially when his nemesis is winning. The missed six-footer for eagle on the 13th will live long in Woods' memory, just as any number of his putts that slipped by. "I was a spaz," he announced with little thought about what was or was not politically incorrect.

It could have been worse, though, he could have been Rocco Mediate, who racked up a 10 on the par-three 12th, with a series of dunks in the water, to leap from contender to backmarker while Ernie Els cut a miserable figure limping up the 18th for a 76 that left the South African nowhere near where he wants to be or should be. In contrast, Mickelson was and so was Augusta. For there have been two winners at this Masters.

Yes, more than a couple had arrived here ready to declare that the course alterations had stretched the magic from the National. How daft did they look in the hindsight of a feast that made the old place scream out for more as Mickelson tucked in? No, this was not the golfing gruel the critics had warned of. This was the finest fairway fare.

Surprise of tournament: BEN CRENSHAW

How a 54-year-old could still be featuring on the Sunday telecast of The Masters was commendable enough but then to peer down his unimpressive recent shows on the Seniors Tour raised the feat to extraordinary. Ernie Els even spoke of Crenshaw rivalling Tiger Woods with putter in hand. Augusta loves a rebirth.

Demise of tournament: SERGIO GARCIA

At one stage on Friday the young Spaniard was two under and hinting at launching a challenge for a first major that becomes more overdue with every passing month. But then, as he always seems to, Garcia fell away. The third-round 79 saw him exit the party early. What made it all the more depressing was its utter predictability.

Cries of tournament: DAVID DUVAL

A quintuple-bogey 10 by Duval, pictured; Charles Howell III finishing last behind a forgotten 68-year-old, Charles Coody, and more treble bogeys than players could groan over... Augusta bared its teeth with little mercy. That they had been sharpened by the course lengthenings drew a few mutterings. But the National seduced all in the end.

Final round scores

US unless stated

281 (7-under)

P Mickelson 70 72 70 69

283 (5-under)

T Clark (SA) 70 72 72 69

284 (4-under)

J M Olazabal (Sp) 76 71 71 66, R Goosen (SA) 70 73 72 69, T Woods 72 71 71 70, C Campbell 71 67 75 71, F Couples 71 70 72 71

285 (3-under)

A Cabrera (Arg) 73 74 70 68, V Singh (Fiji) 67 74 73 71

286 (2-under)

S Cink 72 73 71 70

287 (1-under)

M Weir (Can) 71 73 73 70, M A Jimenez (Sp) 72 74 69 72, S Ames (Can) 74 70 70 73

288 (even)

A Oberholser 69 75 73 71, B Mayfair 71 72 73 72

289 (1-over)

G Ogilvy (Aus) 70 75 73 71, S Verplank 74 70 74 71, R Pampling (Aus) 72 73 72 72

290 (2-over)

N O'Hern (Aus) 71 72 76 71, S Appleby (Aus) 71 75 73 71, D Howell (GB) 71 71 76 72

291 (3-over)

R Allenby (Aus) 73 73 74 71, D Love 74 71 74 72, M Hensby (Aus) 80 67 70 74, J Furyk 73 75 68 75, D Clarke (N Irl) 72 70 72 77

292 (4-over)

A Scott (Aus) 72 74 75 71, C Pettersson (Swe) 72 74 73 73, P Harrington (Rep Irl) 73 70 75 74, S Katayama (Japan) 75 70 73 74, E Els (SA) 71 71 74 76

293 (5-over)

B Jobe 72 76 77 68, T Bjorn (Den) 73 75 76 69, Z Johnson 74 72 77 70, T Purdy 72 76 74 71

294 (6-over)

R Sabbatini (SA) 76 70 74 74, T Herron 76 71 71 76, R Mediate 68 73 73 80

295 (7-over)

J Leonard 75 70 79 71, B Curtis 71 74 77 73, J Bohn 73 71 77 74

296 (8-over)

L Mize 75 72 77 72, L Donald (GB) 74 72 76 74, R Beem 71 73 73 79

297 (9-over)

O Browne 74 69 80 74

298 (10-over)

S Garcia (Sp) 72 74 79 73

300 (12-over)

B Crenshaw 71 72 78 79