Sunday, April 11, 2010

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Phil Mickelson kept yanking balls into the trees, and even had an unexpected brush with a pollen pod on the green.

When Lefty was done, he had a third green jacket after an incredibly trying year — and a hug from his wife that never felt better.

Already a fan favorite and now the sentimental pick with his wife, Amy, and mother battling breast cancer, Mickelson rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the signature 12th hole — the heart of Amen Corner — then managed a stunning shot off the pine straw and around a tree to set up another birdie at the next hole.

Mickelson capped it off in style, rolling in another birdie at the 18th for a 5-under 67 that gave him a three-stroke win over 54-hole leader Lee Westwood, his playing partner in the final group and a guy who’s getting far too used to coming up just short in the majors.

Westwood was third in the last two, the British Open and PGA Championship, and now he’s got a runner-up finish. But that first major title will have to wait.

“Phil, being the champ he is, just hit some great shots down the stretch,” Westwood said. “He’s been through hard times recently. He deserves a break or two.”

Hard-charging Anthony Kim finished with a 7-under 65 that sent him to the clubhouse clinging to hope Mickelson would falter, but Lefty wasn’t going to throw this lead away. Not after all his family went through — a striking contrast to the storyline coming into this year’s Masters: the downfall of Tiger Woods after revelations that he had cheated on his wife with numerous mistresses.

Elin Woods never showed at Augusta National, but Amy Mickelson was there, standing behind the green as her husband walked up to finish off the fourth major title of his career.

Woods was among the contenders who faded away, struggling all day with a shaky swing off the tee and never made a serious push for the lead. He finished with a 3-under 69 and 11-under 277, tied with K.J. Choi for fourth.

“That’s not what I wanted,” said Woods, playing for the first time in five months since a sex scandal severely damaged his reputation. “I wanted to win this tournament. As the week went along, I kept hitting the ball worse. It was not very good.”

His big highlight was holing out from the seventh fairway for an eagle, and he had another eagle at the 15th, but an inexplicable three-putt bogey from about 6 feet at the 14th doomed his chances. He was four strokes behind Mickelson.

“I only enter events to win,” Woods said. “I didn’t hit the ball good enough and made too many mistakes around the green. As a result, I’m not there.”

Woods wasn’t the only one to feel Augusta’s bite. Fifty-year-old Fred Couples dumped a shot in the water at the 12th, leading to a double-bogey that stifled his bid to become golf’s oldest major champion. Choi looked steadier than anyone until two straight bogeys knocked him from a share of the lead to four shots behind.

Kim started the day seven shots behind before surging up the board, climbing within a shot of the lead with an eagle at 15 and a birdie at 16. After closing with two pars, all he could do was watch Mickelson finish out his round in the last group of the day.

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