Mickelson’s moment: Lefty wins his third Masters title in seven years

AUGUSTA — This year’s Masters started out all about Tiger Woods.

But in the end, Phil Mickelson stole the show from his rival with back-to-back rounds of 5-under-par 67 and a three-shot win over Lee Westwood on Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club to earn his third Masters championship in seven years. Mickelson trailed Westwood by a shot heading into the final round.

Mickelson becomes the eighth man to win three or more Masters tournaments, and only Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Woods have won more.

Mickelson birdied the 72nd hole to cap an electric back nine that included four birdies, allowing him to outlast Westwood and challenges from K.J. Choi, Fred Couples and Anthony Kim. Mickelson finished at 16 under.

This Masters win was the sweetest for Mickelson, who had his wife and children awaiting him off the 18th green following the round. Mickelson shared a long, emotional embrace with wife Amy, who was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 months ago, following his final putt. Amy Mickelson hadn’t traveled to a tournament since May, and she spent most of this week at a rented house before going to the course Sunday. Mickelson didn’t know his family would be at the course Sunday.

“We are fortunate long term, but the meds that (Amy) has been taking has been very difficult, and she didn’t feel well, and she’s not up for a lot this tournament can provide,” Mickelson said. “And to have her here and share the moment and share the joy of winning on 18 and to share this with my kids is something that we’ll look back on the rest of our lives. This means so much to us to be able to share this type of jubilation.”

The 40-year-old fan favorite shot a torrid back nine for the second consecutive day and pulled off two of the most memorable Masters shots in recent years during the final two rounds.

Mickelson hit his tee shot right of the fairway on the par-5 13th. The ball settled in the pine needles and between two trees 207 yards away from the green, which is guarded in front by a creek and behind by an embankment and bunkers. The left-hander took aim, split the trees and landed his second shot within 4 feet of the hole. He missed the short eagle putt but settled for a birdie and a two-shot lead at the time.

“Certainly it was critical, and it was clutch, and it came at a great time,” he said. “It may have looked hard, but there was a pretty good-sized gap between those trees and a pretty good lie. It was just a 6-iron, a lot of green left.”

Said Westwood, “His second shot into 13 was incredible, and then he just played solid coming in.”

That shot followed a memorable hole-out on his approach on No. 14 in the third round. Mickelson got into contention Saturday when he went eagle-eagle-birdie on Nos. 13-15 to come from five shots behind.

Mickelson birdied No. 15 on Sunday, as well, and had a three-shot lead heading into the final three holes. Westwood added some pressure with a birdie on No, 17, but Mickelson didn’t falter in his final two holes. He made a clutch par putt on No. 17 and then had the birdie on the final hole.

“I love Sunday at Augusta,” Mickelson said. “Back in the ’90s, it was the most nerve-wracking day. Still is, but I’ve just come to love and cherish it, and to play some of my best golf this week, as well as (Sunday), just feels incredible.”

Mickelson has had the rap of being a player who made costly mistakes in big moments. He made plenty of mistakes Sunday, but he recovered from each one of them, including errant tee shots on four holes during a five-hole stretch.

“I made a few loose swings, as I tend to do,” he said.

But Mickelson made some impressive up-and-down saves to make par on three of the holes and had the birdie on No. 13.

“I let my short game make par,” he said.

Mickelson didn’t say the par saves energized him, but a 20-foot birdie putt from above the hole on No. 12 certainly did. It was the first of his four back-nine birdies, and it was the one that broke a tie between him and Choi, who was attempting to become the second consecutive Asian to win a major following Y.E. Yang’s win at last year’s PGA Championship.

“I needed to make birdies,” Mickelson said. “There were a lot of fireworks going on ahead us, and when we get to the birdie holes, we had to do something.”

Choi began his descent a few holes later with back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 13 and 14 to fall off the pace. He got one shot back, but it didn’t matter in the end.

Couples was within a shot of the lead following a par on No. 10, but he went bogey-double bogey right after that and pulled himself out of contention. He finished seven shots back.

Westwood, who led after the second and third rounds, stayed close all day and didn’t have a particularly bad round. The Englishman shot a 1-under round, but he didn’t have the fireworks needed to hang close to Mickelson. Birdies on Nos. 13 and 17 were too late to make up the ground.

Woods, who made his return to competitive golf after a five-month layoff, hurt himself with bogeys on three of his first five holes. He stayed up and down all day and eventually finished tied with Choi and 11 under.

Kim finished third, but it was a 73 on Saturday that ultimately doomed his chances. The Oklahoma graduate, who was playing in his second Masters, fired a 31 on the back nine to post a score of 12 under and take the clubhouse lead. But four groups still had to play after him.

The 24-year-old went birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie on Nos. 13-16 and came within a shot of the lead before Mickelson birdied the 12th and 13th holes.

Mickelson, however, put the tournament out of reach with his 32 on the back nine and an overall bogey-free round.