With another Masters title and a warm embrace, Phil Mickelson is a man in full
The smile on Phil Mickelson's face was easy and confident, his voice deep and natural, the green Masters jacket he wore fit him perfectly, a 44-Long. Sometimes, a man grows to his proper size, turns into his fully-formed self, many years after he's already a household-name athlete whose face is as familiar to us as a neighbor.
Mickelson glided easily over the key shots in his final-round 67 to win the Masters on Sunday, including the ludicrously risky 207-yard 6-iron shot, off pine needles, that he ripped through a tiny gap between two trees to just three feet from the 13th flag.
But he was stumped by what seemed a far easier question. How many trips has he taken to Houston already this year for breast-cancer treatments for his wife Amy and his mother Mary? "I don't know, can't remember," he said, his face going blank and serious. "Six, eight, ten, I guess? They both have the same prognosis -- long term it's good, but day-to-day it's tough. Joints hurt, nauseous, no energy.
"It's been quite a year, really tough. After everything we've gone through, I really don't have words for how it feels to be able to share this jubilation. Amy's been here in Augusta all week, but I didn't know if she'd come to the course today," said Mickelson, who has now won three of the last seven Masters and now achieved the greatness so long predicted for him, but so long delayed. "Sometimes it's very difficult. She doesn't feel well or have the energy."
But as Mickelson walked off the course after one final birdie, on a bogey-free day, after he had completed his three-shot win over Lee Westwood of England, with all others, including fourth-place Tiger Woods, strung out far behind, he looked up to see his wife and three children behind the final green.
"Not much was said. I don't normally shed tears over wins," Mickelson said. So he and his wife settled for a hug, and some tears, that lasted most of a long, sweet minute.
They say clothes make the man, and for years few looked more dapper than the gifted but reckless Mickelson; but, of course, it's far more likely that hardship and challenge will be the harsh forces that ultimately forge authentic personality. Mickelson has been through that in many forms. And he's come out the other side whole.
For years Mickelson was branded a choker, a waster of prodigious talent and a bit of an image-polishing phony. Back before he won his first major title at the '04 Masters, he also had his own personal issues to which he alludes but seldom elaborates. There's more than one way to wish you'd never heard of Las Vegas. But Amy was always there for him as he grew up, even though his birth certificate said he was already in his 30s.
This Masters had magnificent shot making and, until the final half-hour, potential for enormous drama. But there are horses for courses and Augusta National is Phil's track. When he starts the day in the final pairing, this time he began one shot behind Westwood, Phil knows exactly what to do. "I'm in love with this place and it brings out the best in me," he said. "I'm relaxed when I drive down Magnolia Lane because I know I don't have to play perfect golf."