Open collapse now history as 30th TOUR trophy is on mantle

February 11, 2007
By Brett Avery PGATOUR.COM Contributor

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- In case you haven't received the memo: Phil Mickelson's butchering of the 72nd hole at last year's U.S. Open is a distant memory.

In the eight months since losing to Geoff Ogilvy, Mickelson had not placed better than 16th.

Category Total Rank
Eagles 1 T5
Birdies 25 1
Pars 40 T57
Bogeys 5 T51
Double Bogeys 1 T12
Other 0 N/A
Driving Accuracy 81.8% T4
Driving Distance 285.1 yds. 4
Greens in Regulation 79.2% T1
Putts per Round 28.0 T5
Putts per GIR 1.596 1
Sand Saves 50.0% T25

His first three starts of 2007 -- a missed cut last week in Phoenix and ties for 51st and 45th -- represented his worst stretch since missing consecutive cuts in February 2002.

Mickelson hit a few ugly shots Sunday at Pebble Beach GL and got one bad break that led to a lost ball at the fifth. The final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am may have been blessed by unexpectedly beautiful weather, but the clouds were forming around Mickelson's fortunes.

But for the first time in ages, all components of his game worked for 72 holes. Key among them was a driving game that missed only one fairway on the day and 10 all week.

Mickelson rebounded from a double-bogey 5 at No. 5 with seven birdies against one bogey in a closing six-under-par 66. That secured a four-stroke victory against Kevin Sutherland and a 20-under 268 that matched Mark O'Meara's record of a decade ago.

"Certainly, winning today gives me a lot of satisfaction," Mickelson said. "I think the coolest thing, I believe I'm going to take what happened at Winged Foot and make it a plus for the rest of my career. Because I have learned a lot about my driver, about my swing with the driver and I think I'm going to be a better driver for the rest of my career.

"At least that's the goal."

Mickelson posted his 30th TOUR triumph, joining Leo Diegel at 16th on the all-time list. The players left behind at 29 victories include Paul Runyan, Lee Trevino, Vijay Singh and Gene Littler, a fellow San Diegan. As a bonus, Mickelson also crested $40 million in official earnings.

He also won for the 12th time in a TOUR event played on two or more courses and joined Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller as a three-time AT&T champ. Mark O'Meara is the only player ahead of them with five titles.

And as long as statistics are the subject, here's an eye-opener: For the second time in his career, he won despite a lost ball in the final round. It happened in the 1991 Northern Telecom Open, when as an amateur he suffered a triple bogey at the 14th.

This week Mickelson wasn't exactly pushed. In fact, his two closest pursuers were overjoyed with their results.

His prime foe was overnight co-leader Sutherland, a Sacramento native who had one victory and two seconds in 318 TOUR starts. He stood 240th in the World Ranking, 234 spots behind Mickelson.

Sutherland played some marvelous scrambling shots early on the front nine. But he did not capitalize on Mickelson's lost ball, missing birdie putts at the seventh and eighth. Then he put too much muscle into a 7-iron from the rough and took a penalty drop from the hazard behind the green at the par-4 ninth, suffering his own double bogey.

Then there was John Mallinger, known in these parts only because he's from Escondido. He went into his ninth career TOUR start ranked 454th in the world.

Mallinger started the day one back and found himself in a three-way tie for the lead at 15 under after Mickelson thrashed through No. 5. But Mallinger bogeyed from just off the 11th green and three-putted from a dozen feet at the 14th to trail by four shots.

With no one else within five, Mickelson was energized. He all but guaranteed the title with birdies at the eighth (215-yard 5-iron to six feet), 10th ("chip" 9-iron to 15 feet) and 11th (a sand wedge to nine feet). Those successes were realized by accurate driving.

"He is such a good wedge player, iron player and obviously he is a very good putter," Sutherland said. "If he is driving the ball like that right down the middle of the fairway, there is not a player in the world that is not going to have a hard time beating him."

Early in the round, Mickelson showed some oh-no-not-again play that haunted him in last year's Open. And coming off last week's missed cut in the FBR Open, when he took 62 putts in 36 holes, it looked as if the bedeviled Mickelson had reappeared.

The only player in the top three to birdie the vulnerable par-5 second, Mickelson tried to hit a cut shot around towering cypress trees guarding the dogleg left at the third hole. It is a challenge not unlike the 18th at Winged Foot, where Mickelson bounced his drive off the roof of a hospitality tent en route to a double bogey.

As at Winged Foot, he pushed the shot well left. This time it wound up behind the 16th green, yet he made par to keep a one-shot margin.

Then at the fifth, playing 202 yards, he hit a "perfect" 6-iron. It's a club he flies 180 yards, so downwind he expected the ball to end up 30 feet short of the flagstick. Instead, it airmailed the green and landed in six-inch rough. About 30 people searched for the ball, including two marshals within five yards of where Mickelson thought it landed.

"I couldn't believe what happened on five," he said. "It must have rode the wind, got some gust." And the walk back to the tee to hit his third shot? "Yeah, that's not fun."

Instead of withering after making his double, though, Mickelson steeled himself. He made birdie from a greenside bunker at the sixth, made a regulation par at the seventh and then went on his birdie run.

"I felt after Phoenix that my game was coming around, which was why I was talking about adding" this week's Nissan Open in Los Angeles, he said. "Because I wanted to play a little bit more competitive golf with the way I'm playing before I start my run up for Augusta."

Mickelson knows his way around Los Angeles. In fact, eight months ago it provided the balm to one of the most disappointing episodes of his career.

A few days after his pratfall at Winged Foot GC in last year's Open, most sportswriters around the world were writing flourishing obituaries to Mickelson's professional career. He wasn't paying attention, finding a different way to cope with the disappointment.

He went to Disneyland.

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