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Mickelson boosts Shanghai profile

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Iain Carter | 10:16 UK time, Sunday, 8 November 2009

The final leaderboard would have looked at home at Doral or Firestone as the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai thoroughly lived up to its new World Golf Championships status.

WGC events reliably identify the best players in the world - that's why Tiger Woods has won 17 of the 32 that have been played.

But in China an out of sorts Woods could only manage a share of sixth place after suffering a front-nine meltdown in the dream final group alongside eventual champion Phil Mickelson, who claimed his second WGC title of the year.

'Lefty' took the title at the end of a thrilling final day that proved big time golf is at home in Asia. The Sheshan course stood up to the test and a unique atmosphere had, at times, the intensity of a major.

It was more than apparent in the vast galleries following that final group of Mickelson, Woods and the splendidly unflappable Nick Watney. While he remained calmness personified, his illustrious compatriots were struggling.

Phil Mickelson For once, Mickelson left world number one Woods trailing in his wake

Woods seemed to be derailed after missing a short birdie putt at the second that would have brought him to within a short of the world number two's overnight lead.

He tugged his tee shot into the water at the short 4th, three-putted after charging a 20-footer almost half that distance past the 6th hole and was screaming at a mis-timed camera on the 7th tee.

Cameras and phones - indeed the combination of both on most sets - are part and parcel of golf in this part of the world. But as Mickelson acknowledged afterwards the main culprits were from shutter happy professional snappers rather than over enthusiastic fans.

Woods sent that tee-shot at seven into a fairway bunker, fluffed his escape and put his pitch into a greenside trap. It was the golf of a Sunday hacker not the world number one and he was clearly riled.

"Everything that could go wrong went wrong for me today," Woods later observed.

Mickelson made an important birdie on that seventh hole to steady the ship after back-to-back bogeys at the 4th and 5th holes. The significance of that birdies became apparent at the next because that's where the first full leaderboard comes into view and it showed Ernie Els was within a shot of his lead.

The South African, experimenting with a new softer ball he'll be using next year, at last was finding his touch on the greens and went ahead with his eighth birdie of the day at the 17th (he'd also eagled the 8th).

But the water gobbled his duffed five-wood second to the par-five last and the resultant bogey scuppered Els as Mickelson was saving par from long range at the 16th and then nudging ahead with birdie at the 17th.

Then came a tense closing hole where the champion needed to play eight irons twice from the left rough to find the green and two-putt for a one-shot win.

Els remained upbeat afterwards, saying: "This week was a big week, I made a lot of putts. My short game is back and I'm feeling good about my future again."

Also in the mix were superb challenges from Ryan Moore (the American doesn't seem to bother with spikes in his trainers by the way) and Rory McIlroy, who rediscovered his mojo with a 63 that may reignite his tilt at the Race to Dubai.

It was compelling stuff wherever you looked and the greatest significance to the game was the overwhelming success of this event. The PGA Tour is looking rather out of step by not acknowledging this result as a tour win and it irritates Mickelson.

"I don't understand why it doesn't," the champion told me. "But it is just as rewarding whether the PGA Tour recognises it or not because I played against fifteen of the top twenty players in the world and was able to come out on top."

It would be no surprise if retrospectively Mickelson is credited with a tour win and it surely will not be long before a formula is arrived upon to give this tournament full credit on the PGA Tour.

Their European counterparts are in a far easier position because this event plays a pivotal role in the Race to Dubai which still has two weeks to run. It's not so simple in America where the season ended with the FedEx Cup.

"That may evolve, as I've said in the past, over the next two or three years," said PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem as he offered some hope of change.

Finchem has often defended playing all the WGC events in America saying that television brings them to the rest of the world. Hopefully he will have seen a different side to that argument by noting the enthusiasm of the Chinese crowds.

The Champions event can fill a significant hole in the global golfing calendar because it is so far removed from the majors and the other American based WGC events in Arizona, Doral and Firestone.

"It'll be interesting to see over the next five or six years where this tournament ends up in the calendar," Mickelson observed. "And whether or not it gets full status in the US.

"This was, I thought, a very successful event. Because of that I think it has momentum to continue to move up in status and importance."

This was another example of Mickelson not putting a word out of place because he recognises the importance of the Chinese market. He's been like the new boyfriend meeting the potential in-laws for the first time all week long.

Woods doesn't need to go on such charm offensives because of his global status, but it was clear from the galleries that Mickelson won the popularity contest with the world number one by embarking on marathon signing sessions, permanently smiling and politely acknowledgment support.

That's not Woods' style, preferring the poker-faced approach of narrow focus. It adds to the stunning contrast between the world's top two players that exists at every level from the opposite way they swing onwards.

Mickelson now embarks on a 10-week break, Woods heads to Melbourne's stunning Kingston Heath for the Australian Masters.

Although neither is keen to fuel their rivalry verbally it promises to be stronger than ever next season. Mickelson has won four times in a year blighted by his wife and mother suffering from breast cancer.

He assures us that his other half Amy is making good progress in her recovery and provided he can maintain an uninterrupted schedule in 2010 we may well see his rivalry with Woods hit new heights.

The global game threatens to do likewise if it can build on the enthusiasm for the sport generated in this extraordinary week in China.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    yes, great event ... had all the ingredients

    looking forward to seeing Tiger in Australia

  • Comment number 2.

    this will count soon you can be sure of that- finchie just has to see out his agreements. $$$$

  • Comment number 3.

    I like Ryan Moore - the way he plays his golf and the fact that he isn't plastered with logos etc... Makes a refreshing change to the seasoned corporate campaigners.

    I'm pretty sure his shoes do have have spikes. Anyway is the fact that he wears sneakers styled shoes so important. How about talking about his golf.

    Surely you can do better than making comments on his shoes, especially comments that you haven't even bothered to check.

    I do not pay my licence fee for lazy journalism.

  • Comment number 4.

    That was easily one of, if not the best tournament of the year. I thought the golf course was magnificent especially the last three holes. They were the catalyst for some great drama. I don't remember seeing so many remarkable shots (good and bad) from the world's best. It was also great to see young Americans willing to travel and experience golf in other parts of the world. I got the impression they really enjoyed it.

  • Comment number 5.

    Mr Carter, I do believe that over the last few months your admiration for Lefty has developed into a full blown man crush.

    Sam,
    I believe that the comment about Ryan Moore's footwear may have been for the benefit of the 606'ers who contributed to my thread/rant of a few months ago with regards the preciousness of golf clubs who will sell trainer style golf shoes in their pro shop, or allow players to go out in shoes with no spikes yet still won't allow people to play in trainers. As to whether or not Moore's shoes had spikes, I don't know, but when the biggest company in golf shoe manufacturing make shoes with no spikes http://www.footjoy.co.uk/catalog/mens.asp?c=9
    it isn't hard to fathom that they may not.
    If that is the case, then cheers Iain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Of course, had it been at Firestone, Tiger would have won.

    Iain, Your assertion, shared by Woods, that the PGA Tour season has ended is neither accurate nor very gracious to Martin Laird . . . .
    A new, earlier date will be needed for Tour recognition and elimination of the appearance of, well, appearance money. Plus, wouldn't it be preferable for a "Champions" event to recognise Champions and not also rans?
    Lastly, Ryan Moore fans will be disappointed to learn that he's reportedly signed up for some sponsorship.

  • Comment number 7.

    Ryan Moore has signed up to Scratch Golf, in fact he now owns part of the company. Hopefully this won't be the thin end of the wedge?!

    I think endorsing clubs is ok, in fact i am pretty sure he had an endorsed glove anyway and possible Puma footwear.

    I was just saying its refreshing for a pro player not to be corporatising their clothing. Most players these days are like walking billboards - eg Stuart Cink at The Open presentation. V Singh persisting with the dodgy Texan's name all over his clothing (although he did take it off after a while.) Mickleson has KPMG and Barclays. I am not sure how the latter can afford it, maybe they can't break the contract.

    Anyway, my point at Iain was if you do know Ryan's shoes have spikes, then say it, if you don't then say it, but what does seem mean - he does or he doesn't? Couldn't you find out instead of guessing.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi, the puma shoes Ryan was wearing do have soft spikes that are fixed on, they are a strange design and maybe a bit like a moulded football boot. i work in a golf shop and being slightly feminine have a shoe fetish. also the footjoys point 5 refers to are aimed at range use, for example a teaching professional.
    Just like to say that i sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with your blogs but surely thats the point of them so well done Ian as you always cause a stir.
    I thought the newly crowned WGC HSBC Champions was a great tournament to watch and i think the Chinese put on a great show, i just wish Tiger would smile more when playing bad, i know hes really focused on winning but after 63 holes he new the tournament was out of reach so why not relax, interact with the crowd and have a bit of fun. I love watching Tigers game but sometimes get bored of his mardy lip.

 

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