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Phil Mickelson finishes off Phoenix Open victory

(AP Photo/Matt York)

By JOHN NICHOLSON


Associated Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) Phil Mickelson's 5-iron shot sailed long and right on the par-3 seventh, stopping an inch from the fringe and leaving him in danger of losing at least a stroke to playing partner Brandt Snedeker.

Mickelson ended up leaving Snedeker shaking his head and went on to complete a wire-to-wire victory Sunday in the Phoenix Open.

Fifty-five feet away, with a mound and a 20-foot swath of fringe between his ball and the hole, Mickelson decided to putt through the taller grass rather than chip over it. He had caddie Jim Mackay remove the flagstick so that it wouldn't deflect the ball if it had too much speed, a move that proved wise when the ball raced into the cup.

"The challenge of that was to judge the speed where half the putt is through fringe and half is on the green," Mickelson said. "I got lucky to have made it, obviously. I was just trying to two-putt it. It was going fairly quickly when it got to the hole, probably would have been 6, 8 feet by. With Brandt in there close, that was a big momentum change."

Snedeker joked with Mickelson for a moment before holing his own birdie putt.

"Are you kidding me?" Snedeker said about his reaction to the putt. "I fully expected Phil to hit a flop shot from there. He didn't have much of a putt, and he putted through it.

"I hit a great shot in there close and I thought, `Hey, I can get one on him here and put some pressure on him.' He makes that, and he let me hear about it before I putt, and he let me know that I needed to make that to tie. We had fun with it. That's Phil being Phil."

Mickelson shot a 4-under 67 to finish at 28-under 256, two strokes off the PGA Tour record of 254 set by Tommy Armour III in the 2003 Texas Open. The 42-year-old former Arizona State star won after struggling the last two weeks - tying for 37th at La Quinta in his opener and 51st at Torrey Pines - and making news by talking about tax increases.

"It's an important one for me, because it's been a while since I won, been a while since I've been in contention," Mickelson said. "I was certainly nervous heading into today. I think the thing I'm most excited about was the way I was able to regain control of my thoughts after a few shots early on that I didn't care for."

Mickelson missed a chance for a 59 in the first round when his birdie putt on the final hole caught the right edge of the cup, curled 180 degrees and stayed out. He settled for a 60 and followed with rounds of 65 and 64 to take a six-stroke lead into the final round.

"I think that sets up the tone for the rest of the year, because I really started to play well," Mickelson said. "But for me, the rest of the year took a turn on Tuesday when I got my new driver. It just changed my whole deal."

Snedeker finished second, four strokes back after a 65.

"Sometimes you have to tip your hat and say, `Phil played unbelievable and deserved to win,'" Snedeker said. "That's kind of what this week was all about."

Mickelson took a three-stroke lead to the 17th tee, and nearly drove into the left-side water on the drivable par 4, his ball stopping a yard short of the hazard. He flopped his second shot 15 feet past the hole and made the birdie putt.

Mickelson parred the par-4 18th after another drive to the left, one that easily cleared the water he hit into Friday en route to a double bogey, and Snedeker closed with a bogey.

Mickelson had his third wire-to-wire victory and first since the 2006 BellSouth Classic - a 13-stroke blowout the week before the second of his three Masters victories. He pushed his victory total to 41, winning for the first time since 51 weeks ago at Pebble Beach - where he will go for a record-tying fifth victory next weekend.

Making his 24th appearance in the event that he also won in 1996 and 2005, Mickelson tied the tournament scoring record set by Mark Calcavecchia in 2001, and joined Calcavecchia, Arnold Palmer and Gene Littler as the only three-time winners. With six victories in Arizona, Mickelson also matched Johnny Miller's tour record.

After three nearly cloudless days in the Valley of the Sun, the final round was played in overcast conditions. Light rain even fell for a few minutes as Mickelson finished warming up on the practice green and played the first hole.

As the rain stopped, Mickelson bogeyed the par-4 second. He rebounded with birdies on the two front-nine par 3s, pulling off the sensational putt on No. 7.

Snedeker pulled within three strokes with a birdie on the par-4 ninth, but Mickelson pushed the advantage back to four with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 13th, his fourth straight birdie on the hole. Snedeker saved par after his drive stopped under jumping cholla, forcing him to take a drop for an unplayable lie.

Mickelson matched Snedeker on the next two holes, saving par on the par-4 14th with a 10-foot putt and two-putting for birdie on the par-5 15th. Snedeker pulled within three again on the par-3 16th, hitting to 5 feet on the stadium hole, and matched Mickelson's birdie on 17.

Snedeker was coming off a second-place tie Monday at Torrey Pines, four strokes behind Tiger Woods in the fog-delayed event.

"I'm running into Hall of Famers every week," Snedeker said.

Scott Piercy shot a 61 to finish third at 23 under.

"These greens were amazing," Piercy said. "If you got it online, rolling, you made it."

DIVOTS: The crowd Sunday was estimated at 58,791 for a weekly total of 525,821, short of the record of 538,356 set in 2008. ... Mickelson was a course-record 9 under on the four par-3 holes and hit 63 of the 72 greens in a regulation. He has a 10-year winning streak, the longest active run on the tour, and has victories in 20 seasons, third behind Sam Snead (24) and Jack Nicklaus (21). Mickelson is ninth on the career victory list, four behind No. 8 Walter Hagen. Lefty also led wire-to-wire in 2005 at Pebble Beach.

Updated February 3, 2013

? © 2014 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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