Sunday, March 15, 2009
Mickelson bests Watney by 1 stroke
DORAL, Fla. -- With his best chance at winning a World Golf Championship title, Phil Mickelson broke into a cold sweat and couldn't stop shaking. And this was 18 hours before his tee time.
Once he got onto the Blue Monster, Mickelson looked better than ever.
Weakened and dehydrated by a stomach virus that sent him to the hospital on the eve of the final round, Mickelson closed with seven straight pars for a 3-under 69 to win the CA Championship after a dynamic duel at Doral against Nick Watney.
"It took a lot out of me," said Mickelson, who sipped on energy drinks throughout the round. "I haven't eaten much in three days. I fought hard. I've been playing some of my best golf, and I'm very excited to have finished it off."
No longer the best player without a World Golf Championship, Mickelson now can set his sights on No. 1 in the world.
His second victory in his last three starts moved him to No. 2 in the world, closer than he has ever been to Tiger Woods. Depending on how Woods fares at Bay Hill, Mickelson could have a chance to replace him when he next plays at the Shell Houston Open.
"He's the greatest player of all time. I don't want to go there with the world ranking," Mickelson said. "What I'm excited about is I'm playing some of my best golf."
He finished at 19-under 269 and earned $1.4 million, the biggest check of his career.
This one-shot victory might have been as impressive as any.
Mickelson had to conserve all his energy for every shot. Watney made sure every shot mattered. There already were seven lead changes when they walked off the 11th green, and then they matched scores the rest of the way.
The finish was familiar to Mickelson, only this one had a happy ending.
Get all of ESPN.com's latest news, highlights and commentary about the world's most talked-about golfer. Tiger Tracker
Four years ago in another frantic final round on the Blue Monster, he had a chance to force a playoff on the 18th hole and doubled over in shock when his 30-foot chip caught the lip of the cup.
This time, Watney had a 30-foot putt that looked good all the way until it stopped one turn from dropping. Watney, who closed with a 70, pulled his cap over his face in disbelief.
"It looked like it was going in," Mickelson said. "I've been there, man. I know that feeling. It's not a great one."
Watney made all three of his bogeys from the bunker in the final round, the last one on the par-5 12th that cost him his best chance at catching Mickelson.
"I'll get over this," Watney said. "It's a positive week. I played really well. Beat 78 of the best players in the world. Beat Tiger, which is always good. I'm very pleased with the way I'm playing."
Woods, in his first stroke-play event since winning the U.S. Open, closed with another 68 to finish eight shots behind in a tie for ninth, but at least kept one streak alive. He has never finished out of the top 10 on the Blue Monster.
"I didn't get anything out of my rounds," Woods said. "I hit the ball a lot better than my scoring indicates."
Jim Furyk shot 31 on the back nine for a 67 to finish alone in third. Jeev Milkha Singh had a 70 and was alone in fourth, his best result in a PGA Tour event.
But the show throughout a steamy afternoon belonged to Mickelson and Watney, who went into the final round tied for the lead, both pupils of swing coach Butch Harmon, both having won over the last few months.
It was a wonder Mickelson even made it to the course. He had trouble eating the last few days, and he was worried when he broke out in a cold sweat and began shaking in bed. He tried a hot shower and a hot bath, and finally agreed to go to a hospital for treatment of heat exhaustion and mild dehydration.
"I heard that he had gone to the hospital," Watney said. "I think he was walking a little bit slower and just trying to conserve energy. I thought he played very well. Obviously, he played well enough to win."
Mickelson felt so drained that he never got wrapped up in the duel or the tremendous shots Watney hit to stay in the mix -- a chip-in from behind the ninth green for birdie, or his approach into the par-5 10th for eagle to tie Mickelson for the lead.
"When Nick was hitting those great shots midway through the round, I didn't have time to worry about it or energy to worry about it," Mickelson said. "I was just worried about my own shot and try to maintain an even pace."
He didn't even have energy to worry about the risk of hitting a shot right-handed on a hole where the tournament turned in his favor.
Clinging to a one-shot lead, Mickelson pulled his tee shot into a bush and felt his only option was to invert an 8-iron and play it from the other side. It was a perfect shot, except that it hit a tree.
He wound up with a bogey, but kept the lead when Watney hit into a bunker with a 4-iron for his second shot. From another awkward stance, he caught too much sand and left the ball in the bunker, blasted to 6 feet and missed the par putt.
"I feel like I gave away two shots there," Watney said. "Having 4-iron to the green and making 6 there was pretty disappointing. I guess that's going to happen over 72 holes. Just try to work hard and come back better next time."
Mickelson won at Riviera three week ago, and his victory at Doral made it six straight seasons of winning multiple times, the longest active streak on the PGA Tour. He now has 36 victories to tie for 12th with Lloyd Mangrum on the career list.
And while he still hasn't reached the top of the rankings, Mickelson appears to be peaking for the Masters a month away. Whether he is at No. 1 when he gets there is of little concern. He only wonders how soon before Woods hits his stride.
"He'll get back to that level," Mickelson said. "I'm hoping it's in five weeks and not four."