2010 Masters: Analysis: Mickelson’s aggression pays off

Augusta, Ga. | How did Phil Mickelson capture his third green jacket at the 74th Masters? Let us count the ways:

After struggling to get any kind of momentum going early in 2010, he strung four sub-par rounds together at a course he loves like no other.

Over four rounds, he played Nos. 13-15 in an amazing 12 under par – which on its own would have tied for third place. (Included were three eagles, two of which came back-to-back at 13-14 on Saturday.)

He overcame a streaky driver (hitting 60.71 percent of his fairways) with some deft scrambling and wedge play, including three key par saves in the middle of his round Sunday.

He received fortunate bounces on Nos. 8 and 11 Sunday, and took advantage.

He stayed away from the big number, never making anything worse than bogey.

He bettered his best 72-hole total at Augusta National by three strokes.

And lastly, and most importantly, on a course that sometimes lures players into playing tentatively, Mickelson kept the pedal down, staying aggressive throughout. The approach paid in spades, especially when a daring 6-iron through the trees off the pine needles at No. 13 Sunday set up a birdie that pushed his lead to two shots.

“I think Phil proved to a lot of people that his aggressive play is a big reason why he’s a successful player,” said Mickelson’s longtime caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay. “He hit it aggressively, he hit his irons at the flags, we took risks. We hit an 8-iron on 15 today (Sunday, from 205 yards down the hill) when it was absolutely a 7-iron, and I begged him to lay it up on 13 (where Mickelson reached the green in two), and I love it.

“I absolutely love it.”

A 4-foot eagle putt at 13 slid past the cup late Sunday, or Mickelson would have collected his third eagle there in four days. One day earlier at the 13th, he’d jump-started what had begun as an uneventful weekend when he decided to forgo a soft, stock, cut 7-iron and instead draw a hard 7-iron from 195 yards to 8 feet, made eagle, then topped it by holing a wedge from 141 yards for eagle-2 at the 440-yard 14th.

In 30 minutes, Mickelson moved from five shots down into the lead.

Of course, Mickelson likely would not have been in the lead in the middle of the round Sunday had he not made three clutch pars following errant drives on Nos. 9-11. He got up-and-down from 50 yards for par at 9, saved par from deep in the right woods at 10, and had a ball carom off a fan and to the edge of the fairway at 11, where he made a routine par.

Mickelson hit only seven fairways Sunday.

“That’s why I feel so comfortable here and I’m relaxed when I drive down Magnolia Lane,” he said, “because I know that I don’t have to play perfect golf.”

Runner-up Lee Westwood, who has finished 2-T3-T3 in his past three majors, simply did not get enough going in the final round when so many others were making birdies. He had a costly three-putt from 15 feet above the hole at the par-4 ninth, and birdied only one of the two accessible par-5 holes on the back nine. On Sunday, when Westwood required his putter to perform its best, he needed it 33 times.

Perhaps Westwood, who turns 37 this month, simply is paying his major dues the way Mickelson once did before breaking through to win his first major (2004 Masters) at 33.

“It’s just a case of persevering,” Westwood said, “and one of these days I’ll get the breaks and I’ll become a major champion, hopefully.”

Next opportunity: The U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June.

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