PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- When Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson arrived at the first tee at Pebble Beach on Sunday, golf fans everywhere braced for a thrilling duel between the two greatest golfers of their generation.
It didn’t take long for it to turn into a one-sided fight.
Woods and Mickelson, who were playing together for the 30th time on the PGA Tour, went in opposite directions from the start, and in the end Mickelson’s 64 was 11 shots better than Woods’s 75. Mickelson won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with a 17-under total, two shots better than Charlie Wi, who began the day with a three-shot lead. It was Mickelson’s 40th career PGA Tour victory and his fourth in this event.
Mickelson was spectacular all day, blasting drives and hitting 13 of 14 fairways. His irons were precise, and he was dropping putts from all over. After birdies on Nos. 2, 4 and 5, Mickelson created a massive momentum shift when he rolled in a 25-footer for eagle on the par-5 sixth. With that putt, he was 14 under and had a two-shot lead.
“The eagle to me was as important as any,” said Mickelson afterward. “It’s an unexpected eagle. I’m just trying to make a four, not a six. I’m not playing aggressively for a three off the tee.
“That was a real big turning point for me.”
But the truly decisive momentum shift in this tournament might have come Friday, when Amy Mickelson flew in to watch her husband play his second nine at Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore Course. She described him as “moping” when she first arrived. Phil agreed and said Amy’s pep talk turned his mood, and his game, around.
“She said, ‘Come on now, cheer up, let’s go make some birdies,’” Mickelson said. “She was so positive, and it just changed my attitude, playing one of my favorite courses. It was really an attitude change that she instilled coming out with her bubbly, positive attitude that got me going. I told her in the car that it wouldn’t have been possible without that talk.”
After starting on No. 10 and shooting 36 on the back at the Shore Course, Mickelson had five birdies on the front to shoot 29 for a five-under 65.
Jim “Bones” Mackay, Mickelson’s caddie, said he noticed the change on Friday, and it was as drastic as the weather.
"The crazy thing was, at MPCC he shot par his first nine holes in perfect conditions, and then he shot 29 on the back in horrific conditions,” Mackay said on Sunday. “I think he picked up a lot of momentum from that and carried it to today.”
Mickelson likely also had confidence because of his recent success when facing Woods head-to-head. In the last 12 times he and Woods have been paired, Mickelson has beaten him eight times, including this week. Mickelson, 41, clearly thrives when paired with Woods, but that wasn’t always the case.
“I feel like he brings out the best in me,” Mickelson said. “It's only been the past five years. Before, I got spanked pretty good. Let's not forget the big picture here; I've been beat up. But the last five years, I've been able to get some of my best golf out when we play together.”
Amy Mickelson chose her words carefully when asked why her husband loves playing with Woods.
“I think because they have a history, and I’m sure Tiger wanted to play with Phil, too,” she said. “And I think they enjoy it. They’re competitors. They live for these kinds of rounds. This is what they work hard for.”
It was Woods who appeared to be in need of a pep talk on Sunday. Almost from the time he hit his first tee shot, he seemed uncomfortable, but he plodded along with five pars and a birdie on No. 6 before missing a three-footer for par on No. 7, one of three straight bogeys that led to a front-nine 38.
“I missed a ton of short putts today,” Woods told reporters after shooting a three-over 75. “I didn’t hit it as bad as the score indicated, that’s for sure, but I missed everything.”
Remember when Woods showed up on the first tee in the final round with what seemed like a two-shot advantage because of his intimidation factor? That’s no longer the case. On Sunday, he looked lost.
“I could not get comfortable where I could see my lines,” said Woods, who missed five putts within five feet. “I couldn’t get the putter to swing. I just could not get comfortable. It was frustrating.”
But the putter wasn’t his only problem. While he waited for the amateurs in his group to tee off on No. 9, Woods took his stance and moved his arms back-and-forth in a swing-like motion. He looked like he was trying to find his rhythm, but he never did. His only birdie on the back nine came on the par-3 12th, when he holed out from a greenside bunker. But Mickelson stole his thunder there as well, rolling in a 30-footer to save par.
Mickelson, for one, sounded like he would be happy to re-create this pairing anytime.
“I just feel very inspired when I play with him,” Mickelson said. “I love playing with him, and he brings out some of my best golf. I hope that he continues to play better and better, and I hope that he and I have a chance to play together more in final rounds.”