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Mickelson lets this one slip by

first_imgPACIFIC PALISADES It was Phil Mickelson’s show, only without the big finish. It was Mickelson in the lead, Mickelson with the large gallery, Mickelson in control. And he should have made it consecutive tour victories Sunday at Riviera Country Club, should have captured the Nissan Open like he was playing with the locals, solidified his place as the second-greatest golfer in the world, done a quick victory dance on 18 and caught his little jet back home. Only he kept trying to give the field hope, kept speaking softly when his voice needed to fill the room, kept playing nice when he had to bring the hammer. Somebody in the unlikely form of Charles Howell III finally stepped up late to challenge him, and he couldn’t answer. The same Howell who had been haunted by his playoff loss here to Mike Weir in 2003, who had made a career of coming in second, who had one tour victory to Mickelson’s 30, and it was too much. Howell earned a playoff when Mickelson bogeyed the last hole of regulation and then won it on the third playoff hole when Mickelson missed a 10-foot putt. It would have been called a complete giveaway, but there was no dismissing Howell’s dramatic run. Still, all the theatrics could have been avoided if Mickelson had just stayed consistent. “That was certainly disappointing because I felt I had the tournament in my grasp and let it go,” Mickelson said. Mickelson finishing second. There was a time when this would not have been all that stunning. Mickelson was always good for opening the show, it was the really big close that too often escaped him. That was before he knocked off a couple of Masters and a PGAChampionship, laid claim to winning the “big ones” and then last week captured the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. center_img Eight holes into the final round, he had a three-stroke lead. It was looking almost too easy, which should have been a sign. Even the golf gods were smiling on him, his second shot on 12 was slicing toward Santa Monica when it hit a enormous eucalyptus, ricocheted off a branch and fell on the green. “That was a great break,” Mickelson said. “That easily could have gone into the ravine. It could have gone anywhere.” Instead, it went for a par. He was still up four strokes over Howell. Robert Allenby was two back, but about to fade. It looked like a setup. No Tiger Woods, and Mickelson routs the field. Mickelson – easily the most popular player on the course – wins the day. Mickelson shrinks before our very eyes. It’s a storied tournament, but it wasn’t expecting a retro performance by Mickelson. Wasn’t expecting him to harken back to those thrilling days when you could never be real certain what he would do. “I certainly had every chance on the back nine to create some separation and not give anybody a chance,” Mickelson said. He had started so well. He opened the day with a one-shot lead over Paddy Harrington and immediately birdied the first hole. “After that birdie, I thought I was off and running,” Mickelson said. “I hit a couple of good shots and good tee shots, and felt really good about it.” He birdied the second hole and suddenly was on a roll. He was so consistent early, the tournament was almost boring. On the ninth hole he finally hiccupped. He was on the green and looking at a 73-foot putt over a sloping hill. Instead he pulled out his wedge, clipped the green and saw it bounce about 15 feet. “I didn’t think it was that hard of a shot,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. I practice that shot a lot and I never had the club dig like that and grab.” It was his first bogey, but hardly seemed to rattle him. He appeared remarkably calm, confident. But then he started coming up short on putts, stopped applying the heat. On 13 he missed a 3 -foot putt for par. On 16 he came up 2 feet short on an 8-foot putt for birdie. “A couple of short putts I actually hit pretty good,” Mickelson said. “I don’t know why they didn’t go in.” His game was starting to slip just enough, though he did birdie 17. Howell, playing a hole ahead and now one shot back, figured he had to birdie 18 to force a playoff. Instead, he settled for par. “I really felt the tournament was over,” Howell said. Only on 18 Mickelson and his lime green shirt came up well short on his chip shot and he bogeyed the final hole in regulation. It was one blink too many. In the playoff they both parred the first two holes, 18and 10, Howell knocking his second shot off the cement cart path but recovering with a brilliant chip. It was the same hole he lost his ’02 playoff to Weir. That took them to No. 14, where Mickelson missed his 10-foot putt for par. “My heart jumped because it was a shot he missed,” Howell said. Howell knocked in his own 3-foot putt for par. Mickelson, who had led almost the entire tournament, was flying home with a disappointing second-place finish. A tournament he should have won, and very much knew it. Unlike last year’s U.S. Open when he had a three-stroke lead going into the final threeholes, and bogeyed 16 and double-bogeyed 18 and then pronounced “I am such an idiot,” there was no self-deprecation, just recognition of an opportunity missed. “I had the tournament in control,” he said. “I just needed to par that last hole. “I will certainly look back and say there were plenty of opportunities I let slide.” The show went on, only once more without a big Mickelson finish. Steve Dilbeck’s column appears in the Daily News four times a week. [email protected] (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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