Emotional Mickelson romps to Masters victory

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Phil Mickelson won his third Green Jacket, to go with the ones he won in 2004 and 2006. Now, only three players have more; Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods (with four) and Jack Nicklaus (with six). He joins an elite group on three - Sam Snead, Jimmy Demaret, Gary Player and Nick Faldo.

More importantly, Mickelson pulls himself ahead of a bunch of current players on three majors; like Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington. And perhaps even more importantly in the eyes of the American public, he has now well and truly overtaken Tiger in terms of the affection they have for both players. That was probably the case anyway, given the events that have transpired since Thanksgiving Night last November; but this victory lifted Mickelson so much higher than Woods in terms of current popularity. He may still be number two behind Woods on the Official World Rankings, but he is firmly number one in their hearts.

The 35-second hug he enjoyed with his wife, Amy, (who, with his mother is battling breast cancer) at the back of the 18th green was longer and even more emotional than the lengthy hug Tiger enjoyed with his father Earl, after his first win in 1997.

For those who like to see moral rectitude rewarded, it was a very good week indeed. And, although Tiger still has friends out there, it is becoming increasingly difficult not to see him as the pantomime villain.

The plane which hovered overhead on Thursday with the words “Tiger, did you mean Bootyism” (a pun on his returning to his roots in Buddhism) tweaked his tail and mocked his behaviour. And, although Tiger said he never saw it, Rory McIlroy did, and said he thought it was hilarious! What’s more, the rebuke Tiger received in Chairman Billy Payne’s address on Wednesday was a smack bottom and a half; something Finchem, Dawson et all would never dare do.

In the end, it wasn’t quite a stroll in the park for Mickelson. He has been through too much emotionally in the last year to stroll anywhere, and Augusta National is no park. Indeed, it wasn’t until a terribly unlucky break on the 2nd (when a stamen landed on the line of his putt as he was on his backswing) was cancelled out by a lucky break on the 8th (when his second shot rebounded out of the trees onto the short grass) that his round started to take shape.

The shot of the week was his second to the 13th, a quite extraordinary 6-iron from 207 yards off pine needles, which landed one yard over Rae’s Creek and gave him an eagle putt. It was brave and courageous, and turned Phil from the guy with the goofy smile into the all-American hero. Add to that the fact that on the eve of his final round (when he should have been tucked up in bed) his eldest daughter broke her wrist roller-skating, and had to go to Casualty at 10.p.m. (meaning that Phil didn’t get to bed until 1.00 a.m. watching movies) and the eyes begin to moisten and the lip begins to quiver.

Afterwards, Phil battled not to cry both in his acceptance speech and his press conference. His voice cracked with emotion as he said: “I wasn’t sure Amy was going to be there at the end. Her treatment in the short term has been very difficult for all of us because with the medicine and treatment she doesn’t have the energy. I don’t normally shed tears when I win but….”

When he recovered himself, he was generous, as always, to Lee Westwood. “I told him that I had been in that position before and that it sucks; and that nothing I could say to him would make it better. But, I also told him that I pull for him in tournaments now, and I want him to get his first win in a major very soon. He is a quality guy.”

Apart from Westwood (and of course the amazing 16-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero who was the only amateur to make the cut) it was a disappointing week for the Europeans in a Ryder Cup year. Two Englishmen (Westwood and Poulter) led the field at halfway; but of the 26 Europeans in the field, only eight made the cut, with Harrington, McIlroy, Casey, Fisher and Donald among those taking an early bath. By making the cut Manassero (who will turn professional at the Italian Open in three weeks) was the first amateur of any kind to make the weekend since Ryan Moore in 2005, and the first British Amateur Champion to make the cut since Sergio Garcia in 1999. The future (with IMG as his management group) looks very bright indeed.

And so, a Tournament which started with an 80-year-old (Arnold Palmer) and a 70-year-old (Jack Nicklaus) as Honorary Starters also saw a 60-year-old (Tom Watson) shoot an extraordinary 5-under-par 67. And then, a 50-year-old in tennis shoes and no socks (Fred Couples) nearly walked off with his second Green Jacket. But finally, a soon-to-be 40-year-old found himself unexpectedly playing the hero’s role, in an incredibly emotional Morality play. He will celebrate turning 40 on the Wednesday before the Second Act at Pebble Beach. Should be quite a birthday party!