Mickelson pulls away late for second green jacket

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There was no reason to leap, no reason to
look utterly stunned.

Phil Mickelson simply smiled as he fished the ball out the cup,
waved to the gallery and made his way to the scoring trailer with
his three kids draped around his neck.

There was no need for a nail-biting birdie to win this Masters.

Shadows stretched across the 18th fairway late Sunday afternoon
at Augusta National as Mickelson casually made his way to a major
championship that was never this easy.

"I loved it," he said. "The stress-free walk up 18 was
incredible. I had been wanting that. It was a great feeling walking
up there, knowing that I had the tournament in hand."

Once known as the lovable loser who went a dozen years before he
figured out how to win golf's biggest tournaments, Mickelson
captured his second straight major at the Masters. He closed with a
3-under 69 for a two-shot victory over Tim Clark and his second
green jacket in three years.

This was nothing like the others.

He holed an 18-foot birdie putt that swirled into the cup two
years ago at the Masters, keeping everyone in suspense until the
final moment and sending Mickelson leaping into the air when it
finally plopped in. Then there was Baltusrol last summer at the PGA
Championship, when he hit a flop shot out of deep rough to within 2
feet for a birdie to win by one shot.

Instead of a heart-stopping finish this time, he methodically
built a lead that forced Fred Couples, Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh
to try to catch him. But they stumbled along with three-putts and a
litany of other mistakes, the kind Mickelson used to make.

"In '04 when I won, I felt this great feeling of relief that I
could win the tournament I dreamt about," Mickelson said. "This
time, it's a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment to
have been able to beat such a great field."

The rest of the Big Five was lined up behind him, all within
four shots going into the final round.

None could touch him.

Mickelson finished at 7-under 281 and earned $1.26 million,
putting him atop the PGA Tour money list. The victory moved him up
to No. 2 in the world behind Woods and identified him as a major

This was the third straight year Mickelson has won a major --
Woods is the only other player to have done that in the last 20
years. Only five others have won majors in three straight seasons
since the Masters began in 1934.

"I'm having the best time right now," Mickelson said. "I'm
having so much fun being able to compete for major championships.
It's just incredible. And to win a couple now, it's an amazing

Clark holed a bunker shot from across the 18th green for birdie
that left him alone in second with a 69.

Woods, who was trying to become the first player to twice defend
his Masters title, could only blame his putter. He had two eagle
putts inside 15 feet on the back nine and missed them both, and he
had six three-putts this week. He holed a 25-foot birdie on the
18th hole that just about made him curse, although it gave him a 70
and a tie for third.

"I putted atrociously today," Woods said. "As good as I hit
it, that's as bad as I putted."

At the green jacket ceremony, Mickelson asked the crowd for a
moment of silence to pray for Woods' father, Earl, who could not
travel to Augusta for the first time because of cancer.

Woods said he would talk to his father Sunday night, and joked
that "he's probably a little mad at how I putted today."

Joining Woods at 4-under 284 were Couples (71), Retief Goosen
(69), Chad Campbell (71) and Jose Maria Olazabal, whose 66 was the
best score all week on the super-sized course.

But it was Couples who had the best chance to challenge
Mickelson, and had he won, it would have been especially poignant.

This is the 20-year anniversary of Jack Nicklaus' stunning
back-nine charge to win his sixth green jacket at age 46. Couples
was poised to become the oldest Masters champion -- 46 years, six
months -- and he hung with Mickelson until his putter betrayed him.

First came a three-putt on the 11th, his 3-foot par putt
spinning around the cup. On the 14th hole, Couples had a 4-foot
birdie putt to pull within one shot. It caught the lip and spun 6
feet away, and he missed that one, too.

"I didn't hit the ball like I was 46," Couples said. "I
putted like I was 66."

Mickelson poured it on with an eagle chip that caught the lip on
the 15th, and steady pars the rest of the way until the 18th.

Then it was off to Butler Cabin, where Woods slipped the green
jacket on Mickelson's shoulders.

"Great playing," Woods told him.

If Woods bothers to watch the highlights, it should look awfully

The last time Augusta National was overhauled to add length,
Woods built a big lead and let an All-Star cast of contenders
collapse around him with shots into the woods and the water.

The course was stretched even more for this Masters -- at 7,445
yards, the second-longest in major championship history. Mickelson
played it impeccably. The longest par putt he had all day -- besides
the meaningless one from 20 feet that he missed on the 18th hole --
was the 5-footer he made after a solid bunker shot on the 10th.

"I think what I'm most proud of is that I didn't let other
people back in it," Mickelson said. "They had to come chase me
down and make birdies to do it."

Mickelson won for the 29th time on the PGA Tour, tying him for
17th on the career list.

And he became the first Masters champion since Sandy Lyle in
1988 to win the week before coming to Augusta. Mickelson captured
the BellSouth Classic last week by 13 shots.

This one was closer, but it sure didn't seem that way.

He took a one-shot lead into the final round by making the
fewest mistakes Sunday morning, when the rain-delayed third round
was completed in cool, mostly calm conditions. Mickelson shot 70
and was at 4-under 212, the highest 54-hole score to lead the
Masters since 1989. Couples shot 72, making two birdies on the
final four holes to get into the final group.

The possibilities were endless.

Ten players were within three shots of the lead, a list that
included Woods and Singh. Ten more were within five shots of

But no one did anything to bring Augusta National to life.

There was a five-way tie for the lead early in the final round --
Mickelson, Couples, Campbell, Rocco Mediate and Miguel Angel
Jimenez -- all at 4 under before making the turn. But it didn't

Mickelson took the outright lead with a long pitch to the par-5
eighth that checked up 2 feet behind the hole for birdie, and
everyone else either stalled or spiraled, none worse than Mediate.
He hit three balls into Rae's Creek on the par-5 12th -- two from in
front of the green, one from the bunker behind it -- and made 10.

Campbell had a three-putt bogey on the 11th and hit into the
water on the 15th trying to reach the green in two. Jimenez fell
out of the chase with bogeys on the 10th and 12th, and Clark was
lurking until a bogey from the bunker on the 12th.

Mickelson was untouchable, as Woods was in 2002 after the first
big course renovation.

And in the final act of this Masters, their roles were reversed
in Butler Cabin, the way Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer swapped Masters
titles 40 years ago.

"I really don't want to trade next year," Mickelson said. "I
certainly enjoyed the jacket put on me."