Playing Tiger is my inspiration, says Mickelson

 

As if Tiger Woods doesn't face a big enough challenge to regain his former predominance, one of the biggest punchbags of his hegemony claims to be inspired whenever he is in his presence. Phil Mickelson is the former whipping boy who has finally grasped hold of the whip.

Sunday was the fifth time in succession that Mickelson has won the individual battle with Woods when paired with him in the final round – and the third time he was won the tournament, too. It wasn't even close, with Mickelson scoring a 64 to Woods' 75. Contrast this humiliating 11-shot swing, as Woods finished 15th, with the early days when, as Mickelson put it, "I got spanked pretty good".

Yet now, with Woods having gone 823 days since his last official win, Mickelson feels a player reborn when standing next to the man in the red shirt. "I love playing with him," said the 40-year-old after winning his 40th PGA Tour title. "He brings out the best golf in me. I just seem more focused."

The evidence is written all over his results sheet. Before his win at Pebble Beach in the AT&T Championship, Mickelson's best performance since finishing runner-up at July's Open was 10th, as he hurtled out of the world's top 10. With his wife still being treated for breast cancer, his own arthritis problems and his 10-year-old daughter, Sophia, recovering from a seizure, Mickelson arrived on the Monterey Peninsula a 25-1 shot. Those odds seemed justified when he struggled through his first nine on Friday's second round. But then a gee-up from wife Amy saw him come back in 29 and, after losing further ground on Saturday, a date with Tiger motivated him to overcome the six-shot deficit he had with Charlie Wi.

"This is one of the more emotional victories I've had, and the reason is, I've had some doubt these last couple of weeks," said Mickelson, who rose back to No 11 in the rankings.

Mickelson, who joins the world No 1 Luke Donald at this week's Northern Trust Open at Riviera, while the former world No 1 returns to his personal driving range with his coach Sean Foley, had some positive words for Woods. "It's such a night and day difference," he said of Woods' ball-striking. "He used to hook, you were waiting for it, but now he's just striping it right at his target with a tiny little fade like he used to do."

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