Mickelson wins The Players Championship

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Phil Mickelson took the yellow flag from the 18th green, scribbled a message in the corner and then presented it to his new swing coach.

"Butch, the 1st of many!" Mickelson wrote above his signature.

Butch Harmon gladly accepted the token of appreciation, then did like any good teacher would: He gave his student all the credit.

"Obviously, it's very rewarding from a teacher's standpoint to have the opportunity to work with one of the greatest players in the world," Harmon said. "And to have a chance to work to with him at this time of his career, after he's already won 30 tournaments and three majors, it's very rewarding honestly."

It's paying huge dividends for Mickelson, too.

Playing his third week with a new coach, Mickelson made The Players Championship look easy Sunday.

He missed only four fairways and two greens, and had only one bogey when it no longer mattered. Mickelson closed with a 3-under 69 for a two-shot victory over Sergio Garcia.

"What's most exciting is I feel like we're just getting started," Mickelson said.

Maybe so.

The real test could come next month at the U.S. Open, played at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania.

"If I keep working at these things and keep progressing, I should be able to take on the ultimate tough challenge at Oakmont," Mickelson said.

Mickelson escaped the TPC Sawgrass without much challenge, at least not on the final two holes.

He built a two-shot lead over Sean O'Hair heading to the daunting par-3 17th and its famed island green, then watched O'Hair play himself out of contention.

O'Hair, who started the round with a one-stroke lead, matched Mickelson shot-for-shot along the back nine. But O'Hair failed to convert several birdie putts and was two strokes back with two holes to play -- a deficit he felt forced him to take aim at the pin on 17.

It was a risk.

And it backfired.

O'Hair's 9-iron flew a yard over the back of the green and splashed into the murky lagoon. He never saw the ball land. He heard the crowd's reaction, then turned to his caddie and asked, "Did that go in the water?"

Unfortunately for him, it did.

"I thought it was good," O'Hair said. "I hit a perfect shot. When the crowd screamed, I thought it was going to be a cheer. And it was a groan. That's when I knew. I was a little bit shocked."

O'Hair bowed his head and walked to the drop area. Then he put another ball in the water, this one skipping toward the back of the green and then falling off the boards. O'Hair ended up with a quadruple-bogey 7, allowing Mickelson a carefree walk up the 18th hole to victory.

O'Hair also took bogey on the 18th. The extra shot gave him a 76 in the final round, and the difference between runner-up and 11th place was $747,000, which is more than O'Hair earned from his only PGA Tour victory two years ago at the John Deere Classic.

"I'll make plenty of money in my career," O'Hair said. "I want the crystal."

Mickelson took home the crystal trophy and $1.62 million from the richest purse in golf ($9 million). He trails Tiger Woods by $60,000 on the money list, and 98 points in the FedEx Cup.

Mickelson took one hole to erase a one-shot deficit, pulled ahead for good with a par on the 10th hole and didn't miss a fairway over the final five holes. He finished at 11-under 277.

He also moved up to No. 2 in the world with his second victory of the year.

With Harmon helping, it might not be his last.

"You're just seeing the tip of the iceberg," said Harmon, who previously worked with Greg Norman and Woods when they rose to No. 1 in the world. "This is just three weeks into this process. He's going to get a lot better."

Mickelson met with Harmon for two hours before his round Saturday and another hour and a half Sunday morning, tweaking parts of his swing and working to eliminate hooks off the tee.

It worked to perfection.

"Most people would not even take this stuff to the course right away," Harmon said. "He says the only way you kind of find out if it works is on the golf course. He took it to the golf course right away, three weeks ago, and it's gotten better each week."


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