Tue, Apr 13, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Mickelson wins US Masters battle in dramatic last round

DOWN TO THE WIRE At last Mickleson rid himself of the tag of the best player never to have won a major, after an electrifying struggle against Ernie Els


Phil Mickelson celebrates after winning the US Masters golf tournament with a nine-under-par at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia on Sunday.


A revitalized Phil Mickelson won one of the most amazing finishes in US Masters history on Sunday with a dramatic last-hole birdie to beat Ernie Els by a single stroke.

In one of the most electrifying final nine-hole battles even seen over the famed Augusta National Golf Club, the two men battled it out, firing birdies and eagles but it was Mickelson who snatched victory with a birdie putt on the 72nd hole.

It was an emotional moment for the 33-year-old American left-hander, who was playing in his 47th major championship. Finally he had rid himself of the tag of the best player never to have won a major.

All through the round I kept telling myself, "This is my day. Today is the day," Mickelson said. "It's an amazing feeling. I will be back here every year."

He was also only the fourth player in Masters history to win the championship with a birdie on the last hole.

"I think having, in the past 10 years, come close so many times and fall short, to have it be such a difficult journey to win my first major, makes it that much more special, sweeter and it just feels awesome. Now I get to be a part of this great event for the rest of my life," enthused Mickelson.

Mickelson had to draw on all his courage as he suddenly found himself three off the lead as he walked to the 12th green after Els eagled the par-five 13th.

But Mickelson never flinched, drilling his birdie putt to close the gap.

"I heard the roar and guessed what had happened. But I told myself that if I birdied 13 I was only two behind with five holes to go," he explained.

Mickelson carded back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14 to move to within one of the charging South African.

A birdie on the treacherous par-three 16th tied him for the lead and Mickelson had his eyes firmly fixed on the green jacket he so desperately wanted.

Phil Mickleson's career statistics

* 1970: Born June 16, San Diego, California.

* 1990: Becomes first left-hander to win the US amateur championship.

* 1991: Wins his first PGA Tour event, as an amateur, at the Northern Telecom Open

* 1992: Turns professional

* 1993: Wins his first two PGA Tour titles as a pro, the Buick Invitational and the International

* 1994: Wins the Mercedes Championship in a playoff and makes his debut at the Presidents Cup team competition

* 1995: Clinches his second Northern Telecom Open, and makes his Ryder Cup debut for the US

* 1996: Triumphs four times on the PGA Tour

* 1997: Collects two more PGA Tour wins and produces 15 top-25 finishes in 21 starts

* 1999: Finishes second, one shot behind Payne Stewart, in the US Open at Pinehurst

* 2001: Wins the Buick Invitational and the Greater Hartford Open

* 2002: Wins multiple events on the PGA Tour for the seventh time in 10 years. Third place at the US Masters was his sixth career top-10 at Augusta National. Was runner-up to Woods in the US Open at Bethpage Black

* 2004: Achieves his major breakthrough in his 47th start at the 68th US Masters, holding off a last-day charge by Ernie Els with a closing 69 to win by a shot

Source: AFP

With Els in the clubhouse at eight-under, Mickelson drove into prime position on the 18th. His approach went 20 feet behind the flag but then playing partner Chris DiMarco gave Mickelson the break of the tournament.

He put his ball on the exact same line and was putting first.

As fellow American DiMarco's putt slipped past, Mickelson quickly ran across the green to see the path taken by DiMarco's putt.

Lesson learned, Mickelson hit the birdie putt true and as it vanished into the hole he jumped with joy.

He had finally won a major.

Els was gracious in defeat.

"It's hard to explain how I feel now. I had a good shot at it. I was playing good, played well. Phil beat me. He made a great putt there. It is a tough hole. He deserved to win.

"We both knew the shots we needed to do. He made some birdies coming in. He deserved to win. It just didn't work out for me," he said.

Els had watched Mickelson play his second to the 18th, sitting beside the green, eating an apple.

He then went off to the practice putting green in case of a playoff. But in the end it wasn't necessary.

After the outward nine there was no hint of the drama that was to follow.

Mickelson dropped two shots to go out in 38. Els, after a shaky start, eagled the eighth to past what looked like a rear-moving Mickelson.

Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer had a share of the lead after six holes and looked like replacing Jack Nicklaus as the oldest winner of the green jacket.

But 46-year-old Langer's hopes sank at the 15th when his approach slipped back off the front of the green and into the creek.

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