Magic Mickelson dashes Westwood dream
Phil Mickelson is the man Tiger Woods vowed to become.
Mickelson proved that you can be a class act and still win. The contrast between the pair could not be more stark.
Woods, emerging from a self-imposed break following his sex scandal, said at the beginning of the week that he would mend his ways. That he would be more aware of those around him, that he would treat the game with more respect. If wins came along, fine, but they would be irrelevant if he was not a better man. The jury is still out as to whether he has begun to change for the better.
But Mickelson is the total package. A family man, loved by fans for genuinely engaging with them, a brilliant player, an accomplished winner.
"Phil's like Arnie [Arnold Palmer], he knows how to charm people," said John L Sullivan, of Pittsburgh, the man who Woods hit with an errant drive on the 11th. According to Mr Sullivan, Woods didn't even acknowledge him despite the "welt" he inflicted, Woods's caddie Steve Williams did throw him a ball. "Tiger's changed? I don't think so," he said.
Westwood congratulates Mickelson after his victory at Augusta
But when Mickelson also hit someone on the same hole, he bounded over, grinning from ear to ear and handed the guy a glove, with a bit of banter thrown in for good measure.
Woods was warmly welcomed back by the Augusta crowd and he is clearly trying to be more engaging, though it obviously doesn't come easy. Not everyone can be open and still maintain their focus, and he claimed after his final round that the issue is "becoming overblown", insisting it is unfeasible to expect him to appear happy when he is not playing very well.
The 14-time major champion will now take time off to revaluate his future and the golfing world will wait on tenterhooks to find out where we will see him next. Whichever Woods turns up, the game is clearly richer for his presence. And anyone who can finish tied fourth at the Masters after that long off is no ordinary golfer. Although we knew that anyway.
Mickelson may trail Woods by one Green Jacket - three to four (only Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have more) - but he is fast-becoming Mr Masters, with four thirds and two fifths also to his name. "I am in love with this place and it brings out the best in me," he said.
After the fireworks of his back-to-back eagles which reignited the Augusta roars on Saturday, Mickelson conjured one of those special shots that will be talked about for years as he put his stamp on the tournament during the final round.
After driving into the pine needles at the corner of the 13th, he hit a six-iron through a gap between two trees, over Rae's Creek and to within three feet to set up an eagle, although he would miss the putt.
"How big was the gap?" he was asked. "It wasn't huge but it was big enough for my ball to fit through," Mickelson replied modestly, before adding that it wasn't as tight as it might have seemed from beyond the ropes or on TV. "About five feet." It was the sort of shot that commands a plaque, or at least a name.
With all the hullabaloo over the Woods affair, it was easy to forget that Mickelson has also endured a difficult year since he was last at Augusta, after both his wife Amy and his mother were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Amy was waiting behind the 18th green and the pair hugged in tears. Mickelson described the victory, after coming so close at a poignant US Open last year shortly after the diagnosis, as a "very emotional moment and something I shall cherish".
Mickelson now has four major titles but he was stuck as "the best player never to have won a major" after a string of second and third places before his breakthrough victory at the Masters in 2004.
That was his 12th appearance at Augusta, so when he consoled Lee Westwood in the scorers' hut afterwards he was coming from a position of experience. The Englishman, playing in his 11th Masters, went into the final round with a one-shot lead and a maiden major title beckoning. He kept fighting to the end but his one-under 71 couldn't match Mickelson's magical 67. In fact, make that three 67s.
Westwood has now finished second, third, third in the last three majors and was third at the US Open in 2008. He must surely now be deemed the best player in world golf without a major title. It's a back-handed compliment but one Mickelson feels sure he will put right soon.
"I've been in that position and it sucks," he said. "But I also told him that he is playing some of the best golf of anybody in the world, he's an incredible player and I pull for him because I want him to win his first major soon, because he is that kind of talent and a quality guy."
Westwood would have become the first Englishman to win the Masters since Nick Faldo in 1996, and the first Briton to win a major since Paul Lawrie clinched the Open in 1999. The search goes on, though Westwood can rest assured he didn't wilt or throw it away. Mickelson won it in his own swashbuckling style. And Westwood is certain it is only a matter of time before he clinches a big prize.
"I didn't do too much wrong," he said. "I can walk away with a lot of positive thoughts and memories from this Masters. The more I get closer to winning these majors the more I want the next one to come around. Law of averages says the door is going to open one day."
His down-to-earth humour was already returning when a questioner began: "Phil..."
Westwood fired back: "I'm Lee. Phil is coming in a minute. He'll be wearing a green jacket."
British fans may have yearned for a Westwood win, while a Woods victory would have been another twist in a remarkable tale.
But Mickelson's Masters was the heart-warming story to end a week that began with so much angst and unseemly clamour.