Phil Mickelson had good reason to feel at ease standing over a 108-yard sand wedge shot on the 18th hole.
The left-hander simply thought back to the seventh hole July 23 at the Greater Hartford Open, where three hours earlier he drew screams of “Tiger who?” by holing out for eagle from the same distance.
“Same shot as I had on No. 7,” Mickelson said after following a 342-yard drive with the sand wedge approach to 5 feet to set up his winning birdie. “I had to take about 10 yards off with the sand wedge because it was a little downwind.”
He became the first player to successfully defend in the 51-year history of the event, shooting a 6-under 64 for a 14-under 266 total and a one-stroke victory over Davis Love III and Jonathan Kaye.
“To be the first one to win it twice (consecutively) is something very special, but there’s nothing greater than the feeling walking up 18 and feeling the support from the fans,” Mickelson said of the gallery at TPC at River Highlands.
Mickelson overcame a five-stroke deficit in the final round, matching the largest comeback of the year on the PGA Tour.
“I fully expected to be in a playoff,” said Mickelson, who earned $720,000 for his 21st Tour title. “If you give Davis and Jonathan that 18th hole again, they’re going to make birdie seven times out of 10.”
Mickelson, runner-up last week at the U.S. Open, was on the practice green when Kaye pushed a 13-foot birdie attempt to the right on the final hole.
“I didn’t hit a good putt,” said Kaye, the third-round leader. “It hopped up in the air right after I hit it.”
Love missed a 25-footer on the final hole.
“I got better every day, and I just got a little unfortunate,” Love said of his best finish of the year. He closed with a 67, and Kaye shot a 70 that included an 89-yard sand wedge shot that spun back for eagle on the par-5 13th to give him the lead briefly at 14 under.
Scott Verplank (71) finished three strokes back, and Joel Edwards (63) and Jim Carter (68) were 10 under.
After Mickelson holed out on No. 7, he immediately fell back with a three-putt bogey from 6 feet on the par-3 eighth. His 3-foot par putt spun around the lip of the cup.
“I really wanted to make some noise there. . . . and I three-putt,” Mickelson said. “Just unbelievable. I was so heated.”
He made a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 10 to get back to 12 under, but left a 20-foot birdie try an inch short on the 12th. Mickelson turned on his short-game magic on the next three holes, getting up and down for two birdies and a par save. He birdied the par-5 13th, chipping to 2 feet from the swale along the right of the green. On the par-4 14th, he left his first two shots in the left rough, but salvaged par by hitting to 6 feet from a difficult lie.
On the 296-yard 15th, Mickelson’s 3-wood tee shot rolled over the green, but he chipped to 4 feet to set up a birdie. He gave the stroke back on the par-4 17th, failing to get up and down after hitting his second shot long from the fairway bunker.