The BellSouth Classic featured 25 players who were entered in the Masters, and 11 of those made it to yet another Monday finish. Only one survived a five-man playoff.
The last man to win the green jacket is also the last man to win a PGA Tour event. Phil Mickelson, 2004 Masters champion, warmed up for Augusta in style April 4, knocking in a 20-foot birdie putt on the fourth playoff hole to outlast Rich Beem. Jose Maria Olazabal, Brandt Jobe and Arjun Atwal tied at 8-under 208 after regulation play at the rain-shortened 54-hole event.
Jobe and Atwal were eliminated on the first playoff hole, and Olazabal was out after the third hole.
“There were probably six to 10 people who could have won this tournament. I don’t know how I dodged the bullet,” Mickelson said. “I’m looking forward to the Masters.”
Mickelson said he isn’t worried about being burned out heading into the defense of his 2004 title.
“I enjoy being able to play a competitive round closer to the start of the Masters,” Mickelson said. “I love playing the week before a major, and I love how this tournament has set up the course as close as Augusta as possible.”
Mickelson won the BellSouth on the par-4, 455-yard 17th hole when he hit his drive in the fairway and put his second shot 20 feet from the hole before sinking the putt.
Beem, who hasn’t won since the 2002 PGA Championship, hit into a fairway bunker on the final playoff hole. His second shot landed about 20 yards short of the green where he pitched to about 2 feet, setting up a par putt which wasn’t needed.
Olazabal, the two-time Masters champion, had a chance to win on the 576-yard, par-5 18th in regulation to avoid a playoff, but missed a 5-foot birdie putt and settled for par and 69.
He also had a second chance to win on the first playoff hole, missing another 5-foot birdie putt on No. 18. He was eliminated on the third playoff hole when he hit two balls in the water on 18.
“I had a chance to win it (in regulation) and didn’t. Had a second chance and missed it,” said Olazabal, who also heads to the Masters with his game in pretty good shape.
Mickelson and Beem made pars on the first playoff hole to advance to the second playoff hole along with Olazabal. Jobe and Atwal each hit into the water that guarded the green on 18, made bogey and were eliminated.
Olazabel, Mickelson and Beem each parred the second playoff hole (No. 17) to send it back to 18.
Mickelson and Beem advanced to the fourth playoff hole with tap-in birdies on No. 18.
With the weather sunny and in the 70s, the scores came down Monday after the first two rounds were washed out by rain Thursday and Friday and delayed 99 minutes Saturday at the TPC at Sugarloaf.
Mickelson (69), Beem (68), Jobe (67) and the little-known Atwal (64), a native of India and a regular on the Asian Tour for eight years, each birdied their last hole to earn a playoff berth along with Olazabal.
Mickelson may have worked an extra day in Duluth, but he didn’t miss out on his prep work for Augusta. The Masters definitely is on his mind.
“I thought about it last week and the week before when I was there scouting the course,” Mickelson said before the final round at BellSouth. “But the fact that I went over early, I got all the work done that I needed to on the course. I was only going to play one practice round (in Augusta) on Tuesday, so going into Monday doesn’t really affect me.”
Mickelson, the Tour’s leading money winner, earned $900,000. He had seven birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey in the final round. He was all over the course with his driver on the opening nine, finishing with a 37, including hitting into water twice. He also tried to hit out of a creek bed and moved it only a foot on No. 9 and made bogey. He then had a bogey-free back nine for a 32 with four birdies.
“My swing started to feel good on the back. Somehow I hung in there and got lucky,” he said.
Tied for sixth, one stroke back at 209 were Frank Lickliter (68), Scott Dunlap (69), Arron Oberholser (69) and Tag Ridings (69).
Rain has affected eight of the 14 tournaments on Tour so far this year.
– Staff and wire reports