By Paul Newberry/The Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Ga. — As Phil Mickelson strolled up to the 18th green, his third green jacket locked up, he wondered if his wife would be waiting for him.
She’d been there the first two times he won the Masters, but he would’ve understood if she decided to skip this victory celebration.
Yet there she was, waiting with an embrace they’ll remember for a lifetime.
“I normally don’t shed tears over wins,” Mickelson said, his eyes watering. “When Amy and I hugged off 18, that was a very emotional moment for us. I’ll cherish every moment of this week.”
Eleven months ago, Amy Mickelson was diagnosed with breast cancer. While the prognosis is good, she’s worn down physically. It’s tough to get out among the crowds at a place such as Augusta National.
“She didn’t feel well and she doesn’t have energy,” her husband said. “To have her here and share this moment and share the joy of winning on 18, and to share this with my kids, is something that we’ll look back on the rest of our lives.”
So, a tournament that started with the focus on a guy who committed serial adultery, ended with a victory celebration that was much more family friendly.
This has been a trying year for Mickelson, who not only dealt with his wife’s illness, but his mother’s, too. She also is battling breast cancer. Not surprising that he’s been distracted from the game he plays for a living.
Lefty arrived at Augusta National without a top five finish all year. But he’s always felt as comfortable at this course as any other, winning his first major here in 2004, then another two years later. When his family arrived — Amy, their three kids and his mother — Mickelson knew this might be the week he started playing like himself again.
He opened with a 5-under 67. He closed with two more 67s on the weekend. Mickelson played with that same bravado and confidence that has always been his trademark — and often his undoing.
He certainly could’ve gone either way at the par-5 13th hole, where he followed a clutch birdie putt in Amen Corner that gave him the outright lead by pushing his drive into the trees along the right side of the fairway.
Most golfers would have played it safe, punched out into the fairway to give themselves at least a shot at birdie and no worse than par.
He saw an opening between the trees and decided to go for the green — 207 yards away — with a 6-iron.
“I had a good lie in the pine needles,” Mickelson explained. “I was going to have to go through that gap if I laid up or went for the green. I was going to have to hit a decent shot. The gap was a little bit wider — well, it wasn’t huge, but it was big enough for a ball to fit through.”
How right he was. Mickelson ripped away with all his might, watched the ball clear the trees and soar through the air, plopping down 4 whole feet from the flag.
“I just felt like at that time,” he said, “I needed to trust my swing and hit a shot. It came off perfect.”
Even though Mickelson missed the short putt and settled for birdie instead of eagle, that was the hole where he let it be known this tournament was his. He finished with a 16-under 272, three strokes ahead of Lee Westwood and four ahead of hard-charging Anthony Kim, who shot 31 on the back side for a closing 65.
“It’s one of those shots only Phil could pull off,” said Westwood, who started the final round with a one-stroke lead but wound up with another close-but-no-cigar finish in a major. “I think most people would have chipped that one out. But that’s what great players do: They pull off great shots at the right time.”
Mickelson was steady the rest of the way — another birdie at the par-5 15th, pars at the tricky 16th and 17th holes. That way, he could play it safe for once, going with the 3-wood at No. 18 to assure he didn’t spray it up in the trees and cost himself a tournament that no one else could win, but he could still lose.
As the patrons rose to salute a familiar champion who was clearly the sentimental favorite on this day, Mickelson had one person on his mind. She was there, and she was beaming.
“I was just really glad she was there,” he said. “I knew she would be watching. I didn’t know if she would be behind 18. To walk off the green and share that with her is very emotional for us.”
Tiger Woods’ wife, Elin, would not have been waiting if her husband had won.
She stuck with her plan not to be at Augusta with their two kids, undoubtedly still grappling with the stunning reports that her husband has been cheating with numerous women.
At the start of the week, Woods hoped that returning to golf from a five-month layoff would return some normalcy to a life that’s been tabloid fodder since the infamous Thanksgiving night car crash.
Plenty questioned if Woods was making the right call, returning from such a long layoff at the first major of the year, without so much as a warmup event. Some wondered if he’d even make the cut.
He did that and so much more, contending for all four days.
But he never made much of a run on Sunday, undone by one wild swing after another and a three-putt bogey from 6 feet at the 14th hole, the sort of mistakes he couldn’t afford facing a four-stroke deficit at the start of the final round.
When Woods walked off No. 18, having closed with a birdie that only assured he would finish in a fourth-place tie with K.J. Choi, his answers were a bit terse and clipped.
“I wanted to win this tournament,” he said. “As the week wore on, I kept hitting the ball worse.”
“I’m going to take a little time off,” Woods said, “and kind of re-evaluate things.”
Westwood said there’s no need to re-evaluate what he’s doing, even though he keeps coming up oh-so-close on the biggest stages.
Over the previous seven majors, he finished third three times.
Now, he’s been a runner-up.
“When you’ve come close, there’s a tinge of disappointment straight off,” Westwood said. “I was disappointed walking up to the last green, obviously. But once that’s passed, I didn’t do too much wrong today. I can walk away with a lot of positive thoughts and memories from this Masters.”
So can Mickelson.
Enough to last a lifetime.
“I’m in love with this place,” he said. “It brings out the best in me.”