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Mickelson Has Phil Of Streak


The only thing more amazing than The Streak was the way it ended another spectacular comeback, another stunning collapse.

Only this time, both belonged to Tiger Woods.

Woods erased a seven-shot deficit in a matter of seven holes, only to see his hopes of a seventh straight PGA Tour victory disappear in the cool Pacific air when he became a victim of his own mistakes and a gutsy revival by Phil Mickelson.

The longest PGA Tour winning streak in 52 years ended Sunday in the Buick Invitational, where Mickelson won for the first time in 18 months and left Byron Nelson's record run of 11 straight victories as the standard.

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    Phil Mickelson won the Buick Invitational Sunday, halting Tiger Woods' win streak.(SportsLine) RealAudio
  • Phil Mickelson
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  • "I didn't back off. I didn't dog it out there," Woods said. "I just hung in there. For some reason I didn't hit the ball as crisp today as I needed to."

    In a final round packed with as much drama as a major championship, Mickelson recovered from two double bogeys with back-to-back birdies, and went on to a four-stroke victory over Woods and Shigeki Maruyama.

    He closed with a 70 and finished at 18-under 270 for the 14th victory of his career, worth a career-high $540,000.

    Fighting his swing all day, Woods clawed his way into a tie with a birdie on the par-5 13th, only to follow with bogeys on two of the next three holes. The result was his first loss in a PGA Tour event since late August at the hands of his first victim.

    "I wasn't out to end the streak. I don't want to be the bad guy," said Mickelson, who finished one stroke behind Woods in the NEC Invitational. "I just wanted to win the tournament."

    He did it with his best two shots of the week a 9-iron into 2 feet on No. 13 for birdie that restored his lead, and a wedge to 6 feet for birdie on the next hole for a three-stroke margin that became too large even for Woods to overcome.

    "At least I made it interesting for Phil," Woods said.

    Woods' great run ends at six, the same number won by Ben Hogan in 1948 but still well short of the "untouchable" record that Nelson set in 1945.

    It was only fitting that it was Mickelson who ept Nelson's record safe. Down on his luck after shooting a 78 in the third round of the 1998 PGA Championship, he called Lord Byron for some help with his game, and won at rain-delayed Pebble Beach two days later.

    What a way to return the favor.

    "To go against the best player in the world and come out on top means a lot," Mickelson said. "I know I can play against the best and win."

    It took everything he could muster, in a town where he grew up, on a Torrey Pines course where he used to play three times a week in high school.

    Woods was seven strokes down with 12 holes to play. Seven holes later, he pointed at the cup as his ball fell to the bottom for a 5-foot birdie on the 13th hole that gave him a share of the lead at 15-under.

    Mickelson, whose lead vanished with double bogeys on the seventh and 11th holes, didn't need a scoreboard to tell him what was going on.

    "I knew. Believe me, I knew," he said.

    But instead of cowering at another onslaught by Woods, Mickelson responded.

    His drive on the 13th was blocked to the left, in the rough and under a eucalyptus tree, leaving him no chance to reach the green in two.

    "I knew I needed to make 4," he said. "I just didn't know how."

    With 116 yards to the pin, he hit a 9-iron that spun back to 2 feet for birdie.

    "After that, I was back in control of my game," he said.

    And then Woods finally blinked. With only a 9-iron in his hand, he was 25 feet right of his target and three-putted for his first bogey in 44 holes. Mickelson dropped a wedge into 6 feet for another birdie and command of the tournament.

    Woods bogeyed the 16th hole from the bunker, and a smile crept over his face as if he knew the streak was finally over.

    It was a heart-pumping end to a streak that captured the imagination of the entire tour. And it did nothing to diminish the fact that Woods' dominance of his generation may be greater than any other player's in golf history.

    "It's disappointing I didn't win," Woods said. "I just wasn't hitting it good enough to give myself a viable chance down the stretch, and it finally caught up with me. To even be under par was kind of a miracle."

    Woods hit only 10 greens in regulation and missed eight fairways, but he still scraped together a 68, and he still gave Mickelson a major scare.

    Maruyama had a 72 in his quest to become the first Japanese player since Isao Aoki in 1983 to win on the PGA Tour.

    Mickelson, who was tied for 134th in final-round scoring last year and only two weeks ago blew a final-round lead in Phoenix with a 40 on the back nine, showed the kind of courage that may help him win his first major championship down the road.

    Don't be surprised if Woods is there waiting for him. While the streak s over, Woods still has not finished worse than seventh in a stroke-play tournament since the MCI Classic in April.

    Woods has developed such a commanding presence on tour that he was asked on the eve of the final round which players might make a run at him even though he was six shots out of the lead.

    A gallery that swelled to 35,000, unheard of for this tournament, desperately wanted to be witness to another Woods comeback.

    It looked early as though luck would be on Woods' side when his drive headed left for the gallery, struck the leg of an aluminum beach chair and kicked out in the fairway. From there, Woods laced an approach that landed 7 feet left of the hole.

    He made the putt and pumped his fist pretty hard for such a short putt, especially one so early in the round. It was a clear sign that while Woods had not been wrapped up in the Streak he had a high school pal on his bag this week the fire to win burns every week.

    Mickelson had plenty of fire, too, and played like a someone trying to protect his home turf.

    After struggling to make three pars, Mickelson smoked his driver 318 yards down the fourth fairway and his an approach that landed 12 feet past the hole and spun back to 2 feet for birdie. A 10-foot birdie followed on the next hole, and his 40-foot eagle putt on No. 6 just dropped below the hole for a tap-in birdie.

    That put him at 19-under, still seven strokes clear of Woods and four ahead of a fading Maruyama.

    No problem, right?

    Mickelson was a 13-time winner on the PGA Tour, not a 28-year-old rookie like Matt Gogel, who ballooned to a 40 on the back nine at Pebble last week that gave Woods the help he needed to win his sixth in a row.

    Just like that, however, the comfortable margin turned into a throat-gripping finish.

    From the seventh fairway, Mickelson hit a wild approach that landed just far enough in front of a tree to restrict his swing. Double bogey.

    On the par-3 11th, he missed the green and chunked his first chip so badly it stayed in the rough. Double bogey.

    After two par saves, Woods hit his approach into No. 12 to 3 feet for birdie, then tied Mickelson for the lead with another birdie on No. 13. He wasn't spectacular, but his presence alone was a factor.

    As Davis Love III said earlier in the week, "Jack Nicklaus won a lot of golf tournaments by having his name up there, not by how he played coming down the stretch. Guys believe sometimes more in other people's game than their own."

    Mickelson had every reason to believe in Woods. But the guy who has had problems closing out tournaments finally believed more in himself.

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