Phil Mickelson breaks through with first major win at Augusta

Over the first three rounds Mickelson played the most controlled, disciplined golf of his career, hitting 73-6% of his fairways and leading the tournament in greens in regulation. Still, Sunday would be his most important round ever. That Woods, his nemesis, was in 20th place, at three over par, surely helped. "Well, it doesn't suck," Mickelson said, breaking up a loosey-goosey press conference.

However relaxed Mickelson seemed, you just knew he wouldn't make it easy on Sunday. Early on he came down with a case of the yips (missing a 3 1/2-footer for par on 3) and then the fluffs (leaving a sand shot in a bunker on 5 for another bogey). Mickelson was three down to a charging Els when he reached the heart of Amen Corner.

Mickelson might have played Nicklaus's brand of percentage golf to get this far, but now it was time to get after it like Arnie. On the par-3 12th, the scariest little hole in golf, Mickelson attacked the flag, sticking an eight-iron to 12 feet for the birdie that began his comeback. At 13 he ripped a high fade around the corner and then rifled a seven-iron to 20 feet, setting up a two-putt birdie. He was one back, but only for a moment, as Els played a superb chip at the par-5 15th, capping a run in which he went six under in a nine-hole stretch.

After a perfect drive at 14 Mickelson and Mackay stood in the fairway chewing on club selection. Bones is the only caddie Mickelson has ever had. He is part of what Amy calls "our gang." She says, "We joke that Phil is the only player in golf history to have the same wife, caddie, agent and nanny his whole career." Standing 146 yards from the hole, Bones talked Mickelson out of a nine-iron and persuaded him to hit a hard pitching wedge. It stopped two inches from the cup for a gimme birdie. One down. "That was a very good idea," Mickelson said of the club Bones had pulled.

Mickelson was still one down when he arrived at the par-3 16th. The hole cost him dearly in 2001, when his hooked seven-iron put him above the hole, resulting in a three-putt that killed his chances. This time Mickelson trusted his high fade and fed an eight-iron off the slope to 15 feet "That one swing says more about Phil's development than any other," said Smith. When Mickelson buried the putt, he was even with Els, setting up the drama of the 72nd hole.

Long after the winning putt had dropped, there was a sense of disbelief that Mickelson had really done it. Wearing his new 43-long jacket, he said, "It was an amazing, amazing day, the fulfillment of all my dreams." Amy still couldn't stop dabbing her eyes, while Amanda was telling any adult within earshot, "Green is my new favorite color."

With Woods fighting his swing and on the verge of domesticity, for Mickelson this Masters should be not the culmination of a career but the beginning of a wondrous second act. One of the game's greatest, Ben Hogan, didn't win his first major until he was 34. By the time he was 41, he had eight more. Mickelson is only 33. For years golf fans have been waiting for someone to play Palmer to Woods's Nicklaus. Now Mickelson has arrived. The King is gone. Long live the new king.

 

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