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Lefty does it all right
A calm Phil Mickelson holds on for a two-shot win after Sean O'Hair falls apart at No. 17.
By BOB HARIG
Published May 14, 2007
Phil Mickelson is given the trophy by 2006 winner Stephen Ames of Canada the trophy after the final round of THE PLAYERS held on the Stadium Course at The TPC Sawgrass.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH - Given his history with a certain 72nd-hole tee shot, a narrow lead and a huge championship at stake, it might have been interesting to see Phil Mickelson negotiate the treacherous 18th at the TPC Sawgrass early Sunday evening.
Would his work with new swing coach Butch Harmon help him get a drive in play? Would the water bordering the left side of the fairway swallow him? Would the ghosts of Winged Foot haunt him?
Playing partner Sean O'Hair negated the moment when he knocked two balls in the water at the par-3 island 17th for quadruple-bogey 7, giving Mickelson some comfort as he played the final hole.
Lefty blasted a drive down the middle, then made it slightly interesting by toying with the water on his second shot. But he enjoyed his victory stroll to the green and his first at the Players Championship.
"What this tells me is I'm on the right path," said Mickelson, 36, who earned $1.62-million from the $9-million purse. "The things that I'm working on are correct because I've seen progression. It wasn't a hit or miss. It's steadily gotten better the more time I've put into it. What I'd like to do is have four days of ball-striking like Sunday's final round."
The win was his second this year and his 31st on the PGA Tour. He moved back to No. 2 in the world.
But it was the first win since his switch from longtime swing coach Rick Smith to Harmon, one of the game's top teachers and the one who worked with Tiger Woods since his teenage years and oversaw his eight major championships.
The two began working together a few weeks ago, and Mickelson has already posted two thirds and a victory. He signed a Players flagstick for Harmon: "Butch: The first of many."
"You have to realize you're dealing with one of the most talented people to ever play the game," Harmon said. "Most people would not even take this stuff to the course right away. It's the same as Tiger years ago when I worked with his swing -- the only way you can find out if this stuff works is on the golf course. He took it to the golf course right away, and it's gotten better each week."
Harmon admitted Mickelson's driving was not good the first three rounds. He was tied for 74th (out of 79) in driving accuracy, hitting 20 of 42 fairways before Sunday. But his short game was brilliant, 55-for-55 on putts inside 5 feet.
His 3-under-par 69 on Sunday included one meaningless bogey at the final hole. He hit 10 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation. He finished at 277, 11 under par, two ahead of Sergio Garcia, who shot 66.
O'Hair held a one-shot lead over Mickelson at the start of the round, and they were even at the turn. He bogeyed 10, and Mickelson birdied 11. O'Hair missed a short birdie putt at the par-5 16th that would have brought him within one.
Mickelson put his pitching wedge shot safely on the 17th green but a long way from the hole before two-putting for par. O'Hair went for the pin and knocked his 9-iron approach over the green and into the water.
"I told Steve (Lucas, father-in-law and caddie) I'm not playing for second," said O'Hair, 24. "I took it right at the pin, hit a great shot, and obviously the wind was helping. I thought the wind was more across. I got kicked in the a-- on 17. ... I didn't bust my butt for four days to get second place. So obviously I paid for it."
He found water from the drop area at 17 and with bogey at 18 finished at 76, dropping to 11th place and costing him $747,000.
Mickelson now sets his sights on the U.S. Open that eluded him a year ago. He squandered a one-shot lead and victory in Mamaroneck, N.Y., with a badly sliced tee shot at 18 that led to double bogey.
"I believe if I keep working at these things and progressing," Mickelson said, "I should be ready to take on the ultimate tough challenge at Oakmont."