PEBBLE BEACH -- Phil Mickelson began the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Sunday six strokes back.
Six holes into his final round at Pebble Beach, Mickelson was already protecting a two-stroke lead.
"I teed off, thinking, 'OK, I've got to play a great round and shoot something in the mid to low 60s to have a chance to win, "Mickelson said.
"And after six holes, I'm leading."
The fun - and the surprises - didn't stop there. Mickelson trampled playing partner Tiger Woods by 11 shots on Sunday.
Oh, Mickelson also won his fourth AT&T Pro-Am, shooting a scalding 8-under 64 to beat third-round leader Charlie Wi by two. Mickelson's four titles here are second only to Mark O'Meara's five. It was also Mickelson's 40th career PGA Tour win, good for ninth all time, one more than eight-time major champion Tom Watson.
But did you hear that Mickelson mauled Woods by 11? In the 29 previous times they had played together on the PGA Tour, Mickelson never beat Woods by more than three.
"I know that Tiger's level of play is so much greater when he's playing his best than anybody else's," said Mickelson, who is 13-13-4 head-to-head with Woods. "When I play with him, it just forces me to focus on my game more intently, and hit more precise shots." This makes five straight times that Mickelson has bested Woods when they have been paired together in the final round. And Woods actually entered
"I do need to say that although I feel like Tiger brings out the best in me, it's only been the past five years," said Mickelson, whose world ranking jumped up to No. 11, seven spots ahead of Woods.
"Before, I got spanked pretty good. Let's not forget the big picture here, I've been beat up." But before, Mickelson fell prey to Woods' gamesmanship. That five-year window of good vibes happens to be right when Mickelson began working with Butch Harmon, Woods' former swing coach.
Is that the difference?
"Possibly," said Mickelson with a wry smile.
Still, Woods had to be licking his chops before the final round.
While Woods was four shots off the lead, Charlie Wi was trying to overcome his own demons and doubts to win his first PGA Tour event. Wi opened the door for everybody with a four-putt double-bogey on his first hole.
"I started with a four-putt, and that's probably not ideal," Wi said.
"Nerves definitely had something to do with it." Ken Duke, also gunning for his first win, began the day in second, one ahead of Woods. But Duke never played himself into the picture, shooting a 2-over 74.
That left the tournament open to a list of names that rivaled - even mirrored -- the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open leaderboard: Woods, Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Padraig Harrington and Hunter Mahan, just to rattle off a few.
"What was frustrating is that I had a chance, and all I had to do was get off to a good, solid start today, and I didn't do that," said Woods, who shot a 3-over 75 a day after firing a 67 at Pebble Beach.
"I was 1 under through six, while Phil was 5 under through six, the kind of the start I was hoping to get." Mickelson blitzed Woods. He two-putted the par-5 second hole for birdie, but that was just the beginning. Mickelson went 4-under on Nos. 4-6, including a 21-foot eagle putt on No. 6, which propelled him to a two-stroke lead over Wi and Woods.
"It threw my whole idea of, 'Use the entire round to catch the lead' out the window," said Mickelson with a smile. "So I ended up just trying to stay focused on being aggressive and attacking the pins." Mickelson did that, hitting 14 greens. Four times (Nos. 5, 13, 14 and
18) he sunk birdies no longer than 5 feet.
"He was hitting it flush," Woods said. "To hear that sound, his trajectory was really good. And his wedge game was right on the money." But Mickelson also buried Woods - and stayed ahead of the rest of the field - with par saves of 31 feet (on No. 12) and 38 feet (No. 15).
"I just feel like I'm putting like I did when I was a kid, without the thoughts and the mind clutter," Mickelson said.
"I was trying to make, and believed I was going to make, those 30- and 40 footers." Woods, meanwhile, unraveled, shooting the fifth-worst score of the day, and the poorest of anyone who finished in the top 40. He lipped a 5-foot birdie try on No. 2, and missed a par putt inside of 3 feet on No. 7.
The longest putt Woods made Sunday was just 13 feet, and it was the only one he sunk outside 6 feet. Woods missed a whopping five putts within five feet.
"I missed a ton of short putts today," Woods said. "I didn't hit the ball as bad as the score indicated, that's for sure, but I missed everything.
"My swing was slightly off, but it was better than it was yesterday.
But I made everything yesterday."
If they had been playing match play, Mickelson would have closed Woods out 7-and-5. And Woods didn't look like he wanted to be on the course past the 13th hole. Woods made bogeys on Nos. 14 and 15 (he also made three straight from Nos. 7-9), and left an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 16 woefully short. The defeated Woods then three-putted No. 18, missing from inside 3 feet to cap it off, moments after Mickelson sunk his final birdie for the win.
"As good as I felt on the greens yesterday is as bad as I felt today," Woods said.
With the tournament in hand by No. 16, the final three holes were essentially a victory parade. Fans serenaded Mickelson, while Woods was uncharacteristically ignored. As Mickelson and Woods waited on the 17th tee, a fan screamed, "I love you, Phil!" Mickelson acknowledged the crowd, eliciting a raucous roar.
A fan then called out, "I love you, Tiger!" but Woods just buried his head, and the crowd clammed up.
The countdown to the clubhouse was as painful for Woods as the losing team walking through raining confetti at the NBA Finals. And considering how icy Woods and Mickelson can be toward each other, it was akin to the Celtics having to watch the Lakers celebrate.
"I don't believe anybody has benefitted more from what he's done for the game than myself, so I'm appreciative," said a diplomatic Mickelson about beating Woods so badly.
"I love playing with him, and he brings out some of my best golf. I hope that he continues to play better and better, and I hope that he and I have a chance to play together more in final rounds." Especially if they turn out like this.
Contact Kevin Merfeld firstname.lastname@example.org.