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Moved by Mickelson’s Miracle At the Magical 2004 Masters

By Yong-yi Zhu

SPORTS COLUMNIST

One. What a sad number it can be. Single. Alone. The only number more depressing is the number zero. At least one is something; zero means nothing.

For Phil Mickelson, the numbers zero and one have such different meanings. In the past 47 major tournaments, Mickelson had gone zero for 47. The questions from the media had been rampant. When was he going to go into the history books? What kept Phil from achieving what so many other great golfers before him had done? Would he ever win a major?

In the past, Phil Mickelson has tried to answer all of those questions, but never truly providing an answer. His shortcomings in the majors only brought on more pressure and more questions.

His closest calls were the US Open in 1999 when the late Payne Stewart holed a long birdie putt at the 18th hole and the PGA Championship in 2001 when David Toms holed a par putt after laying up on the 18th. He was also runner up to Tiger Woods in the US Open at Bethpage Black in 2002. And with the coming and going of every major, the media would place more and more emphasis on Phil’s failings.

This incredible pressure has caused Mickelson to do some drastic things in the past, including going for the green many times when he should have been laying up. Last year, Mickelson decided to change his playing style to hit the ball as long as possible off the tee. This caused him to lose his driving accuracy as well as his place among the money leaders and scoring leaders on tour. Phil suddenly went from the best player to never win a major, to the most reckless player who should not win a major.

But then, 2004 came around, and everything became different. Suddenly, he was a different man. Phil Mickelson, who has been criticized for not working out and considered lazy, worked out six days a week during the off-season. He also began working more on his swing to change it. Mickelson wanted to get more consistent while being willing to sacrifice his driving distance. He wanted to be more accurate off the tee, rather than being able to bomb the ball. This was the same change that Tiger Woods made earlier in his career which has so far propelled Tiger to eight major victories.

Phil is also playing smarter. He is no longer driver happy off the tee. He has been willing to lay up and to use the 3-wood. This change in his attitude brought him a win at the first event he attended this year at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

Coming into the Masters this week, it was obvious that he was no longer the Phil Mickelson of old. He no longer dwelled on the fact that he did not have a major. He was simply calm, cool and collected.

Sunday, all of Phil's work had finally paid off. Phil Mickelson had finally won the major that eluded him for so long. He has finally realized his dream.

“This is my day. This was the day.” Phil said in the Butler Cabin, after holing a 30-foot putt on the 72nd hole to beat Ernie Els by a single stroke, “Something good was going to happen. This was going to be it.”

The last time he had been to the cabin was in 1991 when he was the low scoring amateur. This time, he went to get his own green jacket.

It was clear that the day had been special. There was that air just signaling this would be Phil Mickelson’s day. In fact, throughout the round Sunday, Phil showed a melange of traits of past Masters champions.

He brought a smile to his game reminiscent of Arnold Palmer. He brought a melee of clutch shots reminiscent of Jack Nicklaus. And he brought the determination reminiscent of his own opponent, Tiger Woods.

When the fairways were narrow, Mickelson left the driver in the bag. When trouble loomed, Mickelson went around in instead of through it. When a putt came about, Mickelson dropped them right in the middle. When Ernie Els eagled the eighth and the 13th holes, Mickelson had immediate answers by birdying the 12th, 13th, 14th and 16th. He made mistakes where he could and played brilliantly otherwise. The final putt on the 18th went all the way to the back left edge of the cup before curling itself nicely in, for a birdie three.

Mickelson had shot 31 on the back nine. He had shot 279 for the four days.

But most importantly, he now had one more major than he has ever had. Yet for Mickelson, this is only the first day of the rest of his life. I just cannot wait until the US Open.