Mickelson's win defined by dominance

4/10/2006 - Golf Phil Mickelson

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The defining characteristics of Phil Mickelson's victory in the 2004 Masters were the grit and the adrenaline. A guy known for being 0-for-42 as a professional in the majors birdied five of the final seven holes to overtake Ernie Els. Television still can't resist Mickelson's celebratory leap, which was long on emotion and so short on height that even President George W. Bush teased him about it.

The defining characteristic of Mickelson's victory in the 2006 Masters had nothing to do with adrenaline. Chased by a leaderboard that included four former Masters champions and assorted other major winners, Mickelson sucked all the drama out of Augusta National Golf Club. There would be no leap, no roar from the crowd. Mickelson finished this one with every professional golfer's favorite shot -- the tap-in bogey putt to win by 2.

You want a defining characteristic? Try dominance.

Before his get-it-home-safely bogey, Mickelson strung together 13 pars and four birdies. On a day when one after another of the best golfers in the world succumbed to the dangers of Augusta National, Mickelson played 31 nearly flawless holes. He made two bogeys in the morning, when he moved into the 54-hole lead at 4 under. His final-round 69 gave him a 72-hole score of 281, 2 strokes higher than his winning score two years ago, and about 100 times better.

Mickelson looked like Greg Maddux painting the corners, or maybe Jason Kidd leading the fast break. He never made an eagle. He never shot the lowest score in any round.

That means Mickelson won no crystal prizes from the club. The gold medal, the sterling silver trophy that is a replica of the Augusta National clubhouse, and the $1.26 million will have to suffice. So will the memory of a great round. Mickelson's teacher, Rick Smith, called the 69 as close to a perfect round as Mickelson has played in a major.

"I think what I'm most proud of is that I didn't let other people back in it," Mickelson said. "They had to come and chase me down and make birdies to do it. That's what I was proud of."

For the record, Tim Clark of South Africa finished second, breaking a tie at 4 under by holing out from a greenside bunker at the 18th. The five-way tie for third at 4 under included Fred Couples and Tiger Woods, both of whom looked as if they played the final round with concrete putters.

"If Phil was putting for me, he'd have won at 9 or 10 under," said Couples, who finished tied for first in greens in regulation for the tournament (55) and tied for next to last (44th) in putting (125).

"It felt like today was the day," Woods said after a 70 that included 33 putts. "I just had to putt normal. I had more putts under 10 feet for birdie and eagle. I just missed them all."

The others who made runs at Mickelson included Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Vijay Singh and Chad Campbell. Jimenez tied Mickelson and Couples for the lead on the front nine. The others came within 1 shot of Mickelson at some point. But no one passed him. Once Mickelson birdied the eighth hole and moved into the lead by himself at 6 under, no one caught him.

The 35-year-old becomes the 42nd player in history to win three majors. Because Mickelson won the 2005 PGA Championship, he is halfway to the Tiger Slam. He has won the last two weeks on the PGA Tour, and it's no coincidence that those are the two weeks he has played with two drivers. One hits the controlled fade that he used off the tee to win the 2004 Masters. The other hits a draw that travels 25 yards longer.

Mickelson practiced with the two drivers in cold, rainy conditions here two weeks ago, on the Monday and Tuesday before the BellSouth Classic. Then he went out and won that tournament in Atlanta by 13 strokes.

"He breaks out those two drivers last week, and I think, 'Oh, this is pretty cool,'" said Mickelson's caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay. "And then we get out there in the tournament last week and I think, 'This is really cool.' He did it last week to get ready for this week. It wasn't so much what was going on at Sugarloaf as much as it was what was going on at Augusta. We get out here this week, and darn if it wasn't just frigging perfect."

Mackay listed six holes where the longer driver helped Mickelson, and three of them were par 5s (2, 8 and 15). It's no coincidence that he played the par 5s this week in 13 under.

"I just thought he looked totally in his element out there," Mackay said.

Only two holes elicited any visible reaction from Mickelson. An up-and-down out of the right bunker for par at No. 10 produced a fist pump. So did the 2-putt birdie at No. 15 that moved Mickelson to 8 under, giving him a 4-shot lead with three holes to play.

When he putted out on the 18th green this time, there would be no leap, no crowd roar, no "Ohmigod!" as he walked toward Mackay's embrace. Mickelson nodded, took his visor off and replied, "Thanks, man," to Couples. Mickelson's face was the picture of satisfaction. It remained that way minutes later as Woods, the defending champion, placed the green jacket on Mickelson, each man taking the role of the other a year ago.

"I don't really want to trade next year," Mickelson said. "I certainly enjoyed having the jacket put on me rather than putting it on."

Mickelson said he didn't know how to answer a question about how much more comfortable he felt this year than he did winning two years ago.

"The difference is that I felt that sense of relief after I broke through and won a major," Mickelson said, "And today I felt this great feeling of accomplishment to be able to beat guys like Tiger and Retief [Goosen] and Ernie and Vijay and Fred and some incredible and talented players."

The guy who went 0-for-42 in the majors before the 2004 Masters has improved his numbers.

Said Mickelson: "Three-for-nine sounds better, huh?"

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.