Archive for Monday, February 12, 2007

Mickelson gets back on track

Lefty blazes Pebble Beach field, wins by five strokes

February 12, 2007

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— Phil Mickelson waited until late last year, when his clubs were collecting dust during a three-month break from golf, to reflect on a U.S. Open meltdown at Winged Foot that suddenly seemed to overshadow all his achievements.

Instead of sulking, he found a solution.

And while his five-shot victory Sunday in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was hardly a case of redemption, it at least changed the conversation about him from the past to his potential.

Those worried about emotional scars from his double bogey on the final hole at Winged Foot can relax.

Mickelson finally got his season on track by closing with a 6-under 66 to tie the 72-hole tournament scoring record, win for the 30th time in his career and become only the third player in PGA Tour history to surpass $40 million in earnings.

Determined to become a better driver, Mickelson was all that and more on a surprisingly sunny afternoon. He missed only one fairway, turned a tight race into a runaway with three birdies in a four-hole stretch along the ocean and emerged again as a threat whenever - and wherever - he tees it up.

"Winning today gives me satisfaction," Mickelson said. "I believe I can take what happened at Winged Foot and make it a plus for the rest of my career. I think I'm going to be a better driver of the golf ball for the rest of my career. At least, that's the goal."

That's what he did in the final round, and no one else had a chance.

So complete was his performance at Pebble that Mickelson was among the top five in driving accuracy, greens in regulation, putting and driving distance. The five-shot victory matched the largest margin since Bing Crosby started this tournament in 1937.

The only drama came on the par-3 fifth hole when Mickelson hit a 6-iron he thought would be short. It caught a gust and flew over the green and into shin-high grass, never to be found and sending him to a double bogey.

Six holes later, he had a four-shot lead and was sailing toward a 20-under 268 total, tying the record set by Mark O'Meara in 1997.

Kevin Sutherland missed a half-dozen putts inside eight feet, but his birdie on the 18th hole gave him a 71 and second place alone. He spent so much time being asked about Mickelson that he finally grinned and said, "A lot of questions I've gotten today feel like U.S. Open code."

"Phil's game hasn't gone anywhere," Sutherland said. "He played tremendous today. And he's going to be a force the rest of the year."

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