Mickelson denies Tiger down stretch to win Deutsche Bank title
NORTON, Mass. -- Phil Mickelson's return to Beantown was sweeter than he ever imagined.
He was sitting in a suite at Fenway Park on Saturday night when Boston Red Sox rookie Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter. And on a Labor Day finish that brought playoff atmosphere to the PGA Tour, Lefty pitched a gem of his own.
With thousands of fans standing six-deep behind the greens, and hundreds more camped out in front of video boards, Mickelson blew away Tiger Woods with a flawless front nine and held him off down the stretch to win the Deutsche Bank Championship, a sign that Lefty is healthy enough to again challenge the world's No. 1 player.
"I had a lot of fun -- not just today, this whole week," said Mickelson, who closed with a 5-under 66 for a two-shot victory Monday. "We went and saw the no-hitter in Fenway Park. How often does that happen?"
More often than Mickelson going head-to-head in the final round against Woods and winning the tournament.
That was a first.
But the way he played all week, including the first two rounds with Woods and Vijay Singh, it might not be the last.
"This is what we hoped the summer would be," swing coach Butch Harmon said from Las Vegas. "And if it hadn't have been for the hand injury, it would have been."
It was the first victory for Mickelson since The Players Championship in May, when he looked ready to make another run at Woods. Then he injured his left wrist that cost him his summer, and only recently has Mickelson been able to swing without flinching.
The pain on this Labor Day belonged to Woods.
He couldn't make a putt on the front nine, and couldn't deliver enough clutch putts while trying to make up ground on the final holes. He wound up with a 67 despite taking 32 putts, which left him tied for second with Arron Oberholser (69) and Brett Wetterich (70), who played in the final group of what seemed like a Nationwide Tour gallery.
Tiger vs. Phil
How Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have fared when they've competed head to head (since 2001):
|2007||Deutsche Bank Championship||4||66||67|
|2007||Deutsche Bank Championship||2||64||64|
|2007||Deutsche Bank Championship||1||70||72|
The buzz outside Beantown was on the biggest names in golf, and Mickelson relished this victory.
"For 10 years I've struggled against Tiger," Mickelson said. "This sure feels great to go head-to-head ... and over the last five or six holes when he's making a run, it was fun to match him with birdies."
A snapshot of this sun-splashed afternoon on the TPC Boston could be summed up around the greens. Woods had eagle putts on four holes and played them 3 under. Mickelson didn't have any looks at eagle, but played those same four holes in 4 under.
The pivotal shot, though, was an 8-iron to 6 feet on the 16th, after Woods had put his 8-iron 10 feet above the hole. Both made birdie, keeping Mickelson two shots ahead. He clinched it with a chip from deep round on the par-5 18th green to 4 feet for birdie, while Woods missed an eagle putt from some 35 feet away.
"To be able to stand up on 16 after he knocked it close and follow it with a birdie of my own ... it feels terrific," Mickelson said.
It was his first time in the Boston area since he celebrated a stunning Ryder Cup victory at Brookline. His return included a trip to Kennebunkport, Maine, for some golf and fishing with former President Bush, the no-hitter at Fenway and a big win against Woods.
"It made for a very special, memorable week," Mickelson said. "I'm just so excited with the way it finished."
Mickelson finished at 16-under 268 and earned $1.26 million, moving him atop the standings in the PGA Tour playoffs.
But after dispatching of Woods, Mickelson picked his next battle with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. He said he might not play next week outside Chicago at the BMW Championship, saying he owed it to the tour but that Finchem had not fulfilled some requests that Mickelson has made.
"My frustration from this past year came from asking for a couple of things in the FedEx Cup that weren't done, and not feeling all that bad now if I happen to miss," he said.
Pressed for details, he would not elaborate.
If Mickelson were to play at Cog Hill, he might get more chances to play with Woods. That might be incentive enough the way Lefty handled him at the TPC Boston, staying ahead of him the first two rounds and playing his best when it mattered.
Mickelson, who moved back to No. 2 in the world with his 32nd career victory, took only 23 putts in the final round and built a five-shot lead after 10 holes. Woods had ample opportunity to close the gap, especially when Mickelson took double bogey on the 12th hole, but he never got closer than two shots.
Mickelson matched his birdie on the 16th to stay two ahead, Woods missed from 10 feet on the 17th, and Lefty effectively locked up the victory by blasting a 3-wood over the hazard and the green on 18th hole, then chipping to 4 feet.
Woods' last hope was a 35-foot eagle, which never came close.
"Unfortunately, I just didn't make enough putts to really push him," Woods said.
Wetterich started the final round with a one-shot lead and didn't make a birdie until the 16th hole. His birdie on the last hole gave him enough points to move up 29 spots to No. 22, giving him an excellent shot at making the Tour Championship.
Oberholser was within one shot of Mickelson most of the back nine, but he needed an eagle on the final hole to force a playoff, then missed a 10-foot birdie putt when the tournament was sealed. He moved up to No. 29 in the playoff standings; had he made the birdie putt, he would have gone to No. 20 and clinched a spot at East Lake for the Tour Championship.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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