AUGUSTA, Ga. — Phil Mickelson came into the 2010 Masters without a victory on the season and with a lot on his mind.
His wife, Amy, and his mother, Mary, are battling breast cancer, and Phil has tried his best to maintain his own life while helping them hold onto theirs. He's flown to Houston for treatments, even enlisting one of Amy's doctors to caddie for him. He's shown up to more than one tournament on Wednesday night, forgoing practice rounds.
That his game suffered was to be expected, but something about Augusta National transforms Mickelson's game, giving him the freedom to swing from the heels and the nerve to pull off all manner of magic and timely putting.
The 39-year-old made improbable pars out of the pines on the ninth and 10th holes, birdied the 12th and 13th — the latter after a 205-yard approach from the right pines that may have been the shot of his career — and coasted home from there to card a 67 and win his third Masters by three strokes over Englishman Lee Westwood (71).
"I'm in love with this place," Mickelson said. "It just brings out the best in me."
Anthony Kim shot a final-round 65, tied for the best of the day, to finish third, four back, while K.J. Choi and Tiger Woods, playing partners all four days, shot 69s to tie for fourth.
Mickelson ties Jimmy Demaret, Nick Faldo, Sam Snead and Gary Player with his third green jacket. Only Woods and Arnold Palmer (four apiece) and Jack Nicklaus (six) have more.
Westwood, vying to become the first Englishman to win the Masters since Nick Faldo in 1996, came into the final round with a one-shot lead but lost it immediately when he hooked his opening drive and bogeyed the first.
The 20-time European Tour winner and Ryder Cup star never looked completely comfortable, fighting hooks and a balky short game, and lost his lead for good on the ninth hole.
Still, he was gracious in defeat.
"He's been through a hard time just recently," he said of Mickelson, "and he deserves a break or two."
Just when it seemed Westwood was Mickelson's biggest worry, Choi entered the picture with four birdies in his first 10 holes, briefly claiming a share of the lead at 12 under.
But the Korean faded with bogeys on 13 and 14. Woods bogeyed three of his first fives holes, and despite an eagle 2 on the seventh hole, never seriously threatened.
"As the week wore on I kept hitting the ball worse," he said. "I hit it better on Friday, but after that it was not very good."
Kim eagled 15 and went five under par in a span of four holes (13-16) but could only manage pars on 17 and 18 to finish 12 under for his best Masters finish.
Playing with his family in town for the first time since last year's Players Championship, in May, Mickelson hit prodigious drives all week, trailing only Dustin Johnson with a 297-yard average.
A buzz came over the gallery as patrons watched Mickelson walk to his epic tee shot on the second hole Sunday, a mammoth drive that appeared to be the longest of the week there.
"I've never seen him drive the ball this good," Butch Harmon, his coach, said as Mickelson began his practice drills three hours before he was scheduled to tee off. "It's giving him a lot of confidence."
Mickelson admitted this week that he swings harder at Augusta than anywhere else, emboldened by the course's lack of deep rough. But that leaves him open to some white-knuckle situations, all of which he navigated brilliantly Sunday.
After making a string of pars to start the day, he sliced his 3-wood second shot on the par-5 eighth hole into the trees, but got a good break when his ball ricocheted back into the fairway. He hit a wedge from 84 yards to within three feet and made the putt to tie Westwood at 12 under.
Mickelson took his first lead with a scrambling par at nine, where he drove into trouble, pitched out and got up-and-down, making a five-footer from above the hole. Westwood then pulled his own five-footer for a three-putt bogey.
After hitting 10 and 11 fairways on Friday and Saturday, respectively, Mickelson hit just seven of 14 fairways Sunday.
"One of the things I've been saying this week is that I am very relaxed here at Augusta National because you don't have to be perfect," he said. "I've hit a lot of great shots and driven the ball very well, but I made some bad swings on 9, 10 and 11 and was able to salvage par."
The 10th hole brought Mickelson's wildest miss of the day, a drastic pull-hook into the trees, but again he survived, smacking his second through a narrow opening to just in front of the green and getting up and down for another clutch 4.
"We both struggled off the tee early on," Westwood said. "But you know, Phil being the champion he is hit some great shots down the stretch there."
After rolling in a 20-footer for birdie from the back fringe on 12, the 13th hole brought perhaps the most spectacular shot of a tournament full of them. With his ball in the pine straw and 205 yards between it and the pin, Mickelson eyed a five- to six-foot gap between a pair of pine trees. His ball would have to split them.
"I was going to have to go through that gap if I laid up or went for the green," he said afterward. With that reasoning, he went for it.
"He said, 'Listen, it's a 6-iron. Just let me execute it,'" said Jim MacKay, Mickelson's caddie.
The ball shot out of the loose straw, arced through the warm air and wound up less than four feet right of the pin. A roar erupted at the green and reverberated through Amen Corner.
Mickelson botched the ensuing eagle putt, his only short miss of the day, but saved birdie, part of a four-under stretch over the last eight holes. Among the top 10 finishers, Mickelson's inward 32 was bettered only by Kim (31).
"There's a lot more birdie holes on the back nine than there are on the front," Mickelson said. "The front, they are a lot tougher pin positions and more severe greens and you have to be careful."
You didn't have to look far for signs that Sunday might be special. Adam Scott dunked his approach shot for eagle on the par-4 seventh hole. Nathan Green aced the 176-yard par-3 16th hole, and Ryan Moore replicated the feat 90 minutes later. This, after Saturday's fireworks, when Mickelson went five under in a span of three holes.
Sure enough, he continued his daring play Sunday, making five birdies and no bogeys. For the week, he made three eagles, 16 birdies, 47 pars and, despite several opportunities for costly misadventure, only six bogeys.
"I love Sunday at Augusta," Mickelson said. "Back in the 90s, it was the most nerve-racking day. Still is, but I've just come to love and cherish it, and to play some of my best golf this week as well as today just feels incredible."
The year's first major couldn't start soon enough after months of scandal left a cloud hovering over Woods and the game. But while the week began with talk of how Woods might go about redeeming himself, it ended with the far different and more affirming story of Phil and Amy.
On top of everything else, their oldest daughter, Amanda, 10, had fallen while roller-skating Saturday and suffered a hairline fracture in her arm. After taking Amanda for a late-night visit to the doctor for an X-ray, and getting her fitted in a splint, Phil stayed up until 1 a.m. watching movies.
Mickelson did not know if his wife would make it to the course Sunday, he said later. As the crowd watched Amy get into position by the scorer's hut behind 18, a smattering of fans called out her name, aware of the significance of her arrival.
"We are fortunate in the long term," Mickelson said, "but the meds that she's been taking have been very difficult and she didn't feel well. She doesn't have energy and just isn't up for a lot this tournament can provide."
Mickelson will try for his elusive first U.S. Open title at Pebble Beach in June, but that seemed a long way away as he saw who had finally made her way to the golf course Sunday.
Still, he remained composed, at least long enough to convert his final putt, for birdie, the exclamation point on a week that went 67-71-67-67. The tears flowed as he embraced Amy behind the green. For the longest time, neither of them let go.
"I don't know if we said anything, we just hugged," Mickelson said. "We just hugged."