He had to hit three tee shots on the third playoff hole, and the only one that found the fairway didn't even count. He wound up winning with a double bogey, but only after Frank Lickliter went from likely winner to shocking loser with a three-putt from 12 feet.
"An awkward playoff," Mickelson said. "I'm excited about the outcome."
Lickliter was close to tears.
Trying to win for the first time in 158 starts on the PGA Tour, Lickliter followed Mickelson into a canyon with his tee shot on the 17th, was on the threshold of victory with a wedge into 12 feet, then walked off in stunned silence after his three-putt for triple bogey.
"I'm in shock right now," Lickliter said, his voice cracking. "Other than getting a little stupid, I felt I played pretty good. It's tough to swallow."
The only thing Mickelson had a tough time keeping down was whatever he ate that gave him food poisoning all week. He finally felt better Sunday, but his stomach was still churning.
"It was not a normal week," Mickelson said. "I'll take it. Winning feels great, and it doesn't matter how."
Davis Love III was eliminated from the playoff on the second sudden-death hole when he failed to save par from a plugged lie in the bunker on No. 16.
His final words as he left the course were, "It looks like a disaster out there."
Was it ever.
All three players finished at 19-under 269. All had eagle putts to win in regulation on the par-5 18th, and again on No. 18 in the playoff.
The third playoff hole, the 425-yard 17th, was a script right out of a horror show.
Mickelson hit first and fanned his drive into a canyon left of the fairway, leaving him with virtually no chance at par. Lickliter followed by hitting his drive in the exact same spot. Both hit provisional tee shots, assuming the balls would not be found, and both hit the fairway with their third shots.
But Lickliter found his ball and had to go back to the tee and hit his third shot over again. Mickelson was already in the fairway and didn't want to find his. Much to his chagrin, someone in the gallery found it for him and he had to replay his third shot, too.
Lickliter hit the fairway for the third time. Mickelson's ball headed for the canyon once again.
"Oh, no! Spit it out!" he implored.
A tree obliged, but left him a tough lie, and Mickelson hit a great approach to 5 feet. From the fairway, Lickliter hit his wedge to 12 feet and appeared on the verge of victory.
"I wasn't thinking anything but making it," he said. "I felt like I hit a good putt, and I hit a better one on the second one. That's the outcome I have to take."
Mickelson closed with a 66 to become the first repeat winner of the Buick Invitational since J.C. Snead in 1976, and the first three-time winner on the course that used to be his stomping grounds as a kid.
Mickelson, who earned $630,000, has won five times over the past 12 months, more than anyone except Tiger Woods' seven victories.
Woods tried to make it interesting, too.
In his best position going into the final round this year, Woods closed within one stroke of the lead but failed to birdie either of the par 5s on the front nine. He spent the rest of the sunny afternoon at Torrey Pines trying to catch up, but his swing just wasn't sound enough for that to happen.
He wound up with his third straight 67, two strokes out of the lead and in fourth place.
Woods has not won in seven straight PGA Tour events, his longest stretch since he went seven tournaments without winning until the 1999 Memorial.
"I felt like I played all right," Woods said. "I got it around and scored, and that's the name of the game."
With 22 players within four shots of Love's one-stroke lead, just about everyone had a chance to win.
Love, who beat out Mickelson at Pebble Beach last week to end an 0-for-62 drought on the PGA Tour, had a 25-foot eagle putt to win in regulation and a 12-foot eagle putt on the first extra hole at No. 18. He missed both, then took himself out of the playoff with a 4-iron into the bunker on No. 16.
"Like I said yesterday, I needed to shoot the low round of the day," said Love, who closed with a 67. "That would have done it. I didn't play great, but it was fun to be there."
Lickliter, who holed a 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th to pull into a tie for the lead, left himself a long eagle putt on the 18th that he nestled close for a tap-in birdie for a 66.
He had a 35-foot eagle putt on the first extra hole, and a 25-foot birdie putt on the second sudden-death hole, the par-3 16th.
Mickelson, who let a two-stroke lead get away from him on the back nine, had the best chance of eagle on the 18th with a 7-iron into 12 feet, but also missed.
That was his best chance to win on his own. Ultimately, he need a little luck and a lot of help.
Divots: Davis Love III is 1-7 in playoffs. His only victory was over Mike Heinen in New Orleans in 1995, which got him into the Maters.
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