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Mickelson, not Tiger, is now the pride of America

Tiger Woods left on his own in the back of a sponsor's car, his head down, his private jet waiting. Phil Mickelson was carried out on the shoulders of America, his head held high, his wife and three children alongside.

These two images sum up a Masters week which is perceived to have turned sour for the world No 1 — and into the sweetest of dreams for the Mickelson family.

Of course, the complex truth lay somewhere in the middle of this far too simple storyline of the good guy taking it all, the bad guy taking umbrage.

From a sporting perspective, Woods's performance in finishing fourth in his first competitive outing in five months will surely one day be listed among his many accomplishments.

Meanwhile, the Mickelsons have already returned to the reality of the ongoing fight against Amy's breast cancer. But yesterday it was all about the comparison. So damning for Woods, so glorious for the player who, with four majors, can now officially be termed his closest rival.

This great contrast of karma was inevitable as soon as Mickelson stepped off the 18th green on Sunday and ran over to his hug his wife.

Amy had turned up at the course with their three children a few hours earlier when it became clear a third Green Jacket was pending. She cried, he cried, America cried.

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“I don't normally shed tears over wins,” Mickelson later said. “I can't put it into words but it's something that we'll share and remember the rest of our lives.”

Of course, it's not fair to batter a human with another's suffering but with Woods, the disgraced husband in town without his family, it was pitifully predictable.

It was the final indignity in a week which began so promisingly with a well-received first press conference and first practice round. Each day thereafter that illusion shattered a little.

On the Tuesday another affair emerged; on Wednesday the Augusta chairman Billy Payne scolded him in a prepared statement; on Thursday all the talk centred on the ill-considered Nike advertisement which featured his dead father talking from beyond the grave; on Friday arrived pictures from one of his mistresses' nearby striptease acts; on Saturday he was pilloried on the US's most famous entertainment show; on Sunday the American networks felt obliged to apologise for his cursing. And then came what should be the most important factor — the golf.

Little wonder Woods was surly in his post-round interview. Mickelson was winning his third of the last seven Masters; in the same period Woods has won just the once.

Somewhat incredibly, Woods had 10 birdies and two eagles on the weekend and Mickelson was able to turn halfway parity into a five-stroke advantage.

While that owed plenty to Woods' 10 bogeys, Mickelson's display in reaching 16-under, the third best Masters total in history, was phenomenal. Despite some erratic driving, he somehow managed to keep a bogey off his card on this tensest of Sundays. But it won't be all the miracle up-and-downs they remember.

His approach to the 13th is already deep in Augusta folklore. “Anybody else would have just chipped out,” said Lee Westwood, his playing partner who stood there in awe as Mickelson went for a green guarded by a creek, more than 200 yards away, with his ball on pine needles, as two trees seemingly hugged each other just a few feet away.

“You can't print what I was screaming at the telly,” his coach, Butch Harmon said.

“I tried to talk him into laying it up and he said, ‘no',” so his caddie, Jim Mackay, said.

“I then tried again, and he said, ‘definitely no'“

The only quandary in his boss's mind was “five or six iron?”.

“It was lying nice — all I had to do was execute,” Mickelson explained.

“The gap wasn't huge but it was big enough for a ball to fit through.”

And it did fit through. It did plop a yard or two over the creek. It did roll up to four feet. Mickelson was to miss the eagle putt, but that will hold no interest whatsoever to the legend. Here was the shot which won the 74th Masters.

At this point Amy rushed to the course to see her husband play for the first time since her diagnosis 11 months ago. Mickelson wasn't sure if his family had made it until he saw them all by the final green.

He duly holed his birdie putt, Jim Nantz in the CBS tower bellowed “that one's for the family” and the drama had it's Hollywood ending. By now, Woods had exited left.

Where will we see Woods next? He says he was taking a break “to re-evaluate things” but the wise money is on him teeing it up in Charlotte in a fortnight's time.

So the circus will roll up again as the speculation focuses on the “normal” fans' reaction.

As it was, the patrons treated him with respect but nothing more. The cheers which followed him were nowhere near as raucous as those which heralded Mickelson and others. The likelihood is they never will again.

Yet once the rust is shaken off, Woods will restate his dominance; maybe at the US Open at Pebble Beach in June, almost certainly at The Open at St Andrews in July.

But The Masters 2010 will be a major he never forgets.

When the perfect storm rained all over his comeback parade.


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