Mickelson celebrates Masters win with family

By Tim Guidera - bio | email

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WTOC) The week started as a symposium on family values and it ended that way, except with a different guy demonstrating a different standard.

But in between, it was what the Masters always is, a study in golf at its best and most dramatic.

Sure, the unseemly Tiger Woods saga owned the beginning of the week here, turned Augusta into a gossip hub and golf's classiest event into fodder for tabloid news. But that passed as quickly as could have been expected.

And by Thursday, this was simply a golf tournament, despite Tiger and his baggage. By early Saturday afternoon, it had become a spectacular one because of Phil Mickelson, the player who best chased away the cloud of controversy, the player who made and ultimately won this Masters.

In the end, it wasn't Tiger's week after all.

It belonged to the anti-Tiger, the guy who smiled at fans without it being a marketing strategy, the one who signed autographs and gave the occasional ball to the occasional kid without having to be told to do so. And the one whose family was there to embrace him on the 18th green in a moment of pure joy and innocence that will not be analyzed as anything else.

Mickelson has, characteristically, been in Tiger's shadow the last five months and not only because he had failed to capitalize on the absence of the world's No. 1 golfer by not winning this season. But even his troubles – on and off the course - were eclipsed by the sex scandal that has tarnished Tiger's corporate image.

Mickelson has been dealing with family issues too, he just didn't bring them upon himself.

His wife and his mother have both been treated for breast cancer during the last year. So he has had his own hardships and distractions. And, like Tiger, he couldn't fully keep them from affecting his game, showing up in Augusta without having won since the end of last season, one bad round ruining several opportunities already this year.

But he changed that this week, with temporary brilliance compensating for consistency leading him to a third Masters victory in the last six years.

"It feels incredible,'' said Mickelson. "I could go on and on with so many reasons why. To win this tournament is the most amazing feeling.''

The way it was won was pretty impressive as well.

Mickelson changed, and you might say won, this Masters within a three-hole swing Saturday afternoon.

At the time, Lee Westwood was taking control of the tournament and taking all the excitement out of it by distancing himself from the field. Until Mickelson got involved.

Westwood walked onto the 11th green Saturday leading by five shots. He walked off up by one after Mickelson picked  four strokes to par on three passes of his club with back-to-back eagles at Nos. 13 and 14. And suddenly Augusta National was buzzing – loud, long roars from the afternoon carrying wonder of what might happen Sunday into the night.

In the final round, Mickelson just let the day come to him, starting one shot back but seeming the favorite from the first tee.

Then he went out and made every important shot. He didn't hit them all well. Just when he most needed to – saving par from deep in the woods on No. 9 to go to the back nine with the lead and again from the trees on 10 to stay on top.

"I needed to make birdies,'' he said. "There were a lot of fireworks going on ahead of me.''

He ignited his own in golf's most famous culdesac, rolling in a downhill, 20-footer for birdie to shake the weekend's final roar out of Amen Corner. He followed that with typical Mickelson flair on No. 13, hitting a daring shot from off the pine straw and behind a tree to within seven feet of the hole for another birdie.

And just like that, he was clear of the several potential challengers out there – Westwood unable to generate the run he would need and K.J.Choi unable to sustain his.

Anthony Kim made the best charge, shooting 31 on the back 9 and getting within a shot before coming up short.

And then there was Tiger, who started the day four behind Mickelson and was going to need more than the flashes of himself that he showed with an eagle-birdie-birdie finish to the front nine and another eagle on the back. It was the second time this week he had made two eagles in one round at Augusta after having never done it before.

But it wasn't enough to catch Mickelson or re-introduce controversy.

One big question coming into the tournament was, if Tiger won, would his family be there to share the moment? And if they were, how pained and artificial might the reaction seem?

What happened couldn't have been any different, the tearful moment behind the 18th green after the final putt fell, with Mickelson and his wife sharing a long, warm embrace transparent for its tenderness and as genuine as it was touching.

"It's been an emotional year,'' said Mickelson, who also won green jackets in 2004 and 2006. "I'm very proud of my wife for the fight she has shown against her struggles. This is very emotional. It feels great and it's very emotional.

"It's one of the best things we've gone through. In the last year we've been through a lot. To be on the other end and feel the jubilation feels wonderful.''

So was Sunday's finish, up to and beyond the final hole.

He finished off another Masters win with another birdie putt on No. 18, the fan favorite drawing another rumbling ovation from the Augusta crowd. And then there was Mickelson, surrounded by his children, holding his wife, celebrating her battle and bravery as much as his own skill.

It was, in the end of an uncertain week at Augusta, the perfect family picture, a portrait of contentment and a champion.

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