Mickelson on way back with Players victory

Phil Mickelson
David Walberg/SI
Phil Mickelson finished with a final-round 69.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — In his third week with a new coach, Phil Mickelson suddenly looks as good as ever.

Mickelson added a mini-major to his collection Sunday by winning The Players Championship with control that had been lacking the last three months, closing with a 3-under 69 for a two-shot victory that returned him to No. 2 in the world and pointed him in the right direction with the U.S. Open approaching. (Click here for photos from the final round.)

Sergio Garcia birdied four of his last five holes for a 66, but he was a ceremonial runner-up.

The real victim was Sean O'Hair, and the familiar culprit was that island green on the par-3 17th at the TPC Sawgrass. O'Hair was two shots behind until his 9-iron flew the green into the water. He went to the drop area and watched another shot bounce over the green, and finally walked away with a quadruple-bogey 7.

O'Hair bogeyed the final hole for a 76 and went from second place to 11th, the difference of $747,000.

Mickelson finished at 11-under 277 for his second victory this year, and the 31st of his career. He earned $1.62 million from the $9 million purse, the richest in golf.

What mattered more was how he played. Mickelson missed only two greens in the final round during a well-played duel with O'Hair. This was hardly "Phil the Thrill.'' In fact, the only excitement came on the 18th hole, when the tournament already was decided. Mickelson's approach landed on the edge of the water, and stayed dry by about 12 inches.

He finished with his bogey, the first one on his card in 27 holes.

It was a harsh ending for the 24-year-old O'Hair, who went toe-to-toe with Mickelson along the back nine and hit a shot on the 17th that looked perfect until he could no longer see it.

"You've got to make something happen," O'Hair said. "I didn't bust my butt for four days to get second place. Obviously, I paid for it."

Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal fired off a string of birdies for the third straight day and nearly got into the mix. His fourth straight birdie on No. 12 got him within three shots of the lead, but a bogey on No. 15 stalled his bid and he settled for a 67 to tie for third with Stewart Cink (66).

Mickelson walked off the 18th green with his arm around Butch Harmon, whom he hired last month with hopes Harmon - the former coach of Greg Norman and Tiger Woods - could take one more player to No. 1 in the world.

"It's been a great start," Mickelson said.

After tapping in for bogey, Mickelson removed the flag from the pin on No. 18 and signed his name with a note: "Butch, the 1st of many." Then he gave it to his new coach.

"You're just seeing the tip of the iceberg," Harmon said. "He's going to get a lot better."

Woods is still No. 1 by double the margin and likely will stay there the rest of this year. But it was a good start for Mickelson, especially winning at a tournament where he had only one finish in the top five.

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