- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It's not often women win the Masters, but they did Sunday.
Actually, Phil Mickelson won, but for millions of women around the country, it must feel like a lipstick-sized victory. Mickelson, in case you forgot, is the guy who stayed true to his wife. He's the guy who's been missing tournaments the last 11 months while he flies her back and forth to a breast cancer specialist in Houston. He's the guy who didn't need reminding that women are not disposable.
Mani-pedis for everybody!
Also winning Sunday: karma, which proved to be alive and well. And guys who never had a temper in the first place. And endings that make you wipe your tears on the couch pillows.
Mickelson is the guy whose heavy head on the bed pillow lately wasn't self-inflicted. Both his wife, Amy, and his mother, Mary, have breast cancer. Usually, those two are at every tournament he's in, but for the last year they've been fighting, resting, and fighting again at home. And Mickelson has gone back to his rented homes alone.
So when Amy turned up on the 18th green Sunday at Augusta National for the first time in 11 months and Mickelson practically fell into her outstretched arms, you wanted to hug somebody yourself. Mickelson hugged and cried. And his wife hugged and cried. And his coach and his caddy hugged and cried. And 10 minutes later, the caddy was still crying.
So when Amy turned up on the 18th green Sunday for the first time in 11 months and Mickelson practically fell into her outstretched arms, you wanted to hug somebody yourself.
"This is way beyond golf," said caddy Jim "Bones" Mackay, who's been with Mickelson for 19 years. "This is about a guy who loves his wife. This is about a guy who had a really hard year. Twenty years from now, nothing will compare with this. This is his greatest win, by far. Because of Amy, because of his mom, everything. God bless all those women that go through what Amy and Phil's mom have gone through. Because I've seen it and it ain't easy."
"Of all the majors I've been involved in," said Mickelson's coach, Butch Harmon, "be they with Tiger, Phil, anybody, this is the most emotional by far. This year has been a big, big strain on him. His game has suffered. What he really wanted was to be home with his family."
You figured a guy who came into this Masters having played only seven tournaments this year -- and never placing better than eighth in any of them -- would have a snowball's chance. But something melted in him when his wife and three kids showed up for the first time in nearly a year on Tuesday.
"He just had this peace to him that I haven't seen in awhile," said Bones.
Amy was still hurting, so she wasn't able to come to the golf course, but it was close enough. Each morning, Mickelson would take his oldest, Sophie, to a local coffee shop and play chess for an hour. At night, the whole brood would watch dumb movies. Mickelson came through that door each night after work like it was Christmas morning. You don't know how dispiriting it is to come home after a long day to a strange, empty house. Come to think of it, maybe Tiger knows.
"It's been tough," Mickelson said. "The meds that she's been taking have been very difficult and she didn't feel well and she doesn't have energy and she's not just up for a lot. But to have her here, man "
Amy Mickelson is the kind of walking rainbow that could put a smile on a mortician's face, so when she showed up, everything started looking up. The golf gods started raining favors down on Mickelson's curly hair. On Saturday, golf balls started going into tiny little cups from great distances. Sunday, it got even better:
At 9: ball hits tree, bounces back into fairway. Par.
At 10: ball hits tree, bounces back into playable territory. Par.
At 11: ball hits fan, bounces into short, happy grass. Par.
"Got an assist there," Mickelson said.
Did the guy say anything?
"Ouch?" Mickelson guessed.
The big lefty took it from there.
At 12: looked into his "book of reads" for the 20-foot putt -- the green-studying book that Bones and he spent "days and days" putting together on a trip this year to Augusta -- and buried it. Birdie.
At 13: pulled off the most audacious, swashbuckling shot of his life at 13 -- from the right woods, off pine straw, through two trees (4 feet apart), over Rae's Creek, from 207 yards, to 3 feet. Two-putt birdie.
At 15: smashed an 8-iron from 205 yards -- yes, 8-iron to 15 feet for a 2-putt birdie.
Suddenly, the guy who'd spent a career being eaten alive by Woods had left him 5 shots behind. It was only a matter of lag for par, lag for par, 10-foot birdie and get the Kleenex ready.
"I saw Amy just before I putted," Mickelson said. "That was so great. I mean, I didn't know if she would be there. To walk off the green and share that with her is just very, very emotional. We'll remember this the rest of our lives."
Contrast that with Woods, who spent the week reverting to form -- acerbic answers, sprayed swear words, and curt interviews. He finished fourth, which shows that the golf game is very close. The personality makeover, though, looks like it needs some work.
Soon enough, though, Woods will win tournaments like this, pass Nicklaus, and order will be restored in the universe. But for this one Sunday in a flower-stuffed pocket of Georgia, the good husband, the good son, the good man actually got rewarded.
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