Commentary

Stockton's tip key to Lefty's triumph

Originally Published: September 27, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- For the PGA Tour, it really doesn't get much better. There was Phil Mickelson standing on the 18th green at East Lake Golf Club, basking in the glow of victory early Sunday evening. And there was Tiger Woods a few feet away, enjoying the moment as well.

The game's two biggest names do not typically find themselves celebrating together, certainly not at the same trophy presentation where commissioner Tim Finchem is handing out the hardware.

But that is the beauty of the FedEx Cup, and it all came together.

Woods would not necessarily agree with that assessment, as he finished runner-up to Mickelson in the tournament, seeing Lefty fly by him with a 5-under-par 65 that was good for a 3-shot victory. Woods certainly would have preferred to hoard both trophies, but will have to settle for second here and No. 1 overall -- and, of course, the $10 million bonus.

"It certainly doesn't feel like it did a couple years ago when I won the tournament by seven or eight shots," Woods said. "That felt a little bit better than it did today. … I'm a little disappointed I didn't win the championship, because I was right there."

Likewise, Mickelson didn't get the big trophy, but he won the tournament; no small feat for a player whose personal life has played out in public recently as both his wife, Amy, and mother, Mary, learned earlier this year they had breast cancer.

The family crisis caused Mickelson to take six weeks off after finishing tied for second at the U.S. Open, and put in question his desire and motivation for the rest of the year with his game sputtering.

Now he's headed home to California with his third tournament trophy of the year and a nice consolation of runner-up in the FedEx Cup.

"This is way, way, way up there," said Mickelson's longtime caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, of where the victory ranks among the 37 Mickelson now has on the PGA Tour. "It's huge because of … "

[+] EnlargePhil Mickelson
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPhil Mickelson had the only bogey-free round Sunday at the Tour Championship.

And then Mackay had to compose himself. Tears welled up in his eyes and he excused himself for a moment before resuming the conversation. "He's a hard-working guy. He's got a lot going on in his personal life. I'm very happy for him."

Bones has been with Mickelson since he turned pro in 1992, and it was his suggestion that Lefty visit with two-time PGA Championship winner and former U.S. Ryder Cup captain Dave Stockton for some putting advice.

As it happened, Stockton was in San Diego last week at Torrey Pines for the LPGA Tour's Samsung Challenge, and the two got together for two days of work on the greens.

"He was the first one to articulate getting my hands ahead," Mickelson said of his revamped putting stroke.

Stockton, watching Sunday from his California home, was confident Mickelson would experience immediate success.

"When he called me, it was kind of a shock," said Stockton, 67. "But I started thinking about what he does, and there are similarities. Both of us [use the] forward press. I was curious what he was after, and it was fun to work with him.

"If you taught somebody to putt specifically, you'd like to have somebody who is already one of the best putters you've ever seen. It's like teaching a fish to swim. They kind of know how to do it."

Stockton felt Mickelson's feet were too close together in his stance, that he should return to the forward press and that he needed to look at the hole more so he could see his putting line.

"Through various little things I kind of asked him about, you could see him smile because it brought back things he did as a kid," Stockton said. "You could see the line he wanted the ball to go on. He set his feet wider in his stance. He knew where it was going."

For the week, Mickelson had 36 one-putt greens and led the field in putting average, a stat for which he is tied for 52nd for the year. He was also second for the tournament in putts per round.

Then consider that Mickelson won the tournament by 3 strokes despite taking a quadruple-bogey 8 during the first round on the 14th hole. He shot 73 that day and was tied for 26th in a 30-man field. But with rounds of 67 and 66 he jumped to a tie for third, 4 strokes behind Kenny Perry heading into the final round.

"I've actually been hitting it like this for quite some time," Mickelson said. "But I just have not been getting the results because I haven't been getting it on the greens. … I've been walking off feeling dejected. So to see some putts go in, it just changed the way I looked at it."

Mickelson's 65 that saw him hit 12 of 18 greens and required only 25 putts Sunday is big on several fronts.

In addition to the $1.35 million he received for winning the tournament, Mickelson also jumped to second in the FedEx Cup standings, securing a $3 million bonus.

He spoke of the excitement he now feels about working on his game and taking it forward into 2010.

And most importantly, Mickelson knows the victory was big at home. Amy is typically a very visible force when Phil plays, but she has not been at a PGA Tour event since her May diagnosis.

"I talked with Amy, and she had a great day hanging out with her friends," he said. "They ditched a Girl Scout meeting and hung out together watching it. So they're excited. I'm excited to get home and see her and the kids.

"It means a lot to finish the year off on such a good note. We've been through a lot, and I'm very proud of my wife and my mom on the fight that they've been through, and we've been fortunate in the long term. We're in good shape. Although day-to-day is tough, the meds are tough, and it's not easy for them, we're fortunate that our long-term outlook looks good."

At the awards ceremony, Mickelson made mention of his family's plight, then acknowledged all the women in the United States are afflicted with breast cancer and how much he can empathize with them.

It was a poignant moment, one that drew massive applause.

A few feet away, Woods stood clapping along with the masses, a runner-up and a victor all at the same time.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE