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Lefty corrals major No. 2

Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2005

 

  Phil Mickelson celebrates his chip onto 18 during the final round of the lightning delayed 87th PGA Championship at the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. Monday, Aug. 15, 2005. Mickelson birdied the hole to win the tournament. AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

Phil Mickelson celebrates his chip onto 18 during the final round of the lightning delayed 87th PGA Championship at the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. Monday, Aug. 15, 2005. Mickelson birdied the hole to win the tournament.

AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — His spirits soared when Phil Mickelson realized a birdie on the par-5 18th hole at Baltusrol would allow him to win the PGA Championship and validate him as a major force in golf.

Then he reached out for an extra bit of luck he didn't need.

Ten yards beyond his ball in the middle of the fairway was a stone plaque to commemorate the 1-iron Jack Nicklaus hit into the 18th green when he won the 1967 U.S. Open. Mickelson reached out with his 3-wood and tapped it twice.

''A little touch for some good karma,'' he said.

Mickelson delivered another dramatic finish to his second major title Monday, flopping a chip from the deep grass some 50 feet from the cup for a tap-in birdie that gave him a one-shot victory over Steve Elkington and Thomas Bjorn.

Ultimately, he might do Nicklaus a favor as a threat to Tiger Woods' pursuit of the Golden Bear's record 18 major titles.

Mickelson's victory, which stretched over five days because of Sunday evening storms, gave him a second consecutive year with a major championship. Woods is the only other player to do that in the last 10 years.

Elkington and Bjorn made par on the 554-hole closing hole, and all they could do was watch on television as Mickelson played the chip shot first learned in his backyard as a kid.

''If there's anybody you'd back to get up and down from there, it's Phil Mickelson,'' Bjorn said. ''He's not a one-major guy, he's a 10-major guy. And it's going to be easier and easier for him to win them now.''

This one wasn't easy.

Mickelson had the pressure of being in the lead four straight days. A putting touch that been so true the first three rounds began to abandon him. He returned Monday morning for what amounted to a four-hole shootout.

''I had to gut it out and just find a way to make some pars, and find a way to make a couple of birdies,'' Mickelson said. ''I'm just ecstatic that I was able to get it done.''

Mickelson closed with a 2-over 72 and finished at 4-under 276. It was his fourth victory of the year, matching Woods and Vijay Singh for most on the PGA Tour this year.

He also moved past injured Ernie Els to No. 3 in the world.

Woods couldn't leave New Jersey until he knew someone could beat the 2-under 278 he completed Sunday afternoon before storms halted play. He wound up in a tie for fourth, two shots behind. The Masters and British Open champion came up four strokes shy of a shot at the calendar Grand Slam.

Elkington (71) missed a 10-foot birdie on the 18th hole that grazed the left side of the cup.

Bjorn (72) had a 20-foot birdie on the final hole that looked good all the way, until it dove in and out of the right edge of the cup. His left hand was in the air to acknowledge the crowd, then he grabbed the bill of his cap in disbelief.

''I had a putt that pretty much the whole world didn't think would miss, but it did,'' he said. ''That's what golf is sometimes. The best guy won this week.''

It was the first Monday finish at the PGA Championship in 19 years. Not since 1986 at Inverness had a player from the last group won with a birdie on the 72nd hole at the final majors. Bob Tway made his by holing a bunker shot to deny Greg Norman. Mickelson's chip wasn't nearly as dramatic, but it was equally effective.

''It was a shot that I struggled with out of the rough this week,'' Mickelson said. ''I tried to remember some of the shots I hit as a kid in my backyard. I hit it aggressively, and the ball popped up nicely, and it rolled smoothly.''

The winning putt wasn't anything like the 18-foot birdie he made last year to win the Masters.

There was no need to jump for joy this time.

''Expectations are a little different,'' Mickelson said with a coy smile, referring in part to the length of the putt, and the fact he had already shed the label as the best to have never won a major.

But this one was important.

Hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy enabled Mickelson to salvage what had been a sour season in the majors. He came within five shots of the winning all the majors last season, and this year wasn't ever close.

''Before I even won Augusta, I had never really doubted that I would eventually do it,'' Mickelson said. ''And having not won a major or come close this year, I didn't doubt the fact that it would happen again. I just didn't know when. I'm very fortunate and very pleased and excited that it was this week.''

Davis Love III started the final round tied with Mickelson for the lead. He still had a chance to catch him when they returned for the final four holes, but he let birdie chances get away by either leaving himself too far from the flag or missing putts he so desperately needed. He shot 74 and tied for fourth with Woods.

Singh had an outside chance to become only the second repeat PGA champion in the stroke-play era, but he missed a 10-foot par putt on the 16th when play resumed, bogeyed the 18th and wound up with a 74 to tie for 10th.

The Monday morning finish slightly dampened the highly charged atmosphere at Baltusrol, although it didn't take Mickelson & Co. long to fire up the crowd in the 56 minutes of golf.

Lefty quickly rolled in a 3-footer to clean up his par on the 14th, and while no one in the three groups ahead could make a move, Mickelson came back to them by catching a plugged lie in the bunker on the par-3 16th. He could only blast out to 20 feet and made bogey, leaving him tied with Elkington and Bjorn.

It came down to two par 5s that played entirely different in softer, cooler conditions.

Mickelson was in the fairway on the 650-yard 17th — no longer reachable because of damp fairways — then hit wedge into 10 feet and saw his birdie putt roll off the right lip.

The biggest break of all was when Elkington and Bjorn failed to make birdie on the last hole.

''I really thought I needed a 4 to tie,'' Mickelson said. ''I hit a good drive to be able to go for the green in two, and found out that neither of them made birdie. It was kind of an emotional boost, because now I feel as though it's my tournament to win, as opposed to fighting for a playoff.''

He tapped the Nicklaus plaque to gather some positive thoughts and was surprised his 3-wood didn't continue its fade onto the green. With one last piece of work left, Mickelson came through with a deft chip.

''There's a lot to be said to be the last guy out there, having the final say,'' Elkington said.

The birdie spoke volumes.

Despite three victories in the first three months of the season, Mickelson came up empty in the Grand Slam events. The only noise he made at the Masters was his flap with Singh over spike marks. He took himself out of contention at the U.S. Open with a 41 on the front nine of his second round, and he tied for 60th in the British Open at St. Andrews.

Pouring everything he had into his final shot at a major this year, Mickelson emerged anew as a continuous threat to Woods' pursuit of Nicklaus' record in the majors.

He gathered his three children for a group hug on the 18th green and hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy before thousands of adoring New York-area fans.

This time, he gave them something to cheer.



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