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Phil Mickelson re-established as main challenger to Tiger Woods

Phil Mickelson may have failed to win his third Masters at Augusta National last week but he did wonders for his confidence in bettering Tiger Woods and hugely boosted his image with the American public.

The final round dream pairing lived up to all the hype as the two best golfers in the world brilliantly hacked away at a seven-shot deficit before falling at the last hurdle and there was no doubt it was the 38-year-old lefthander who was the inspiration.

His straight-out-of-the-blocks front nine of 30 equalled the Masters record and it was on his coattails that Woods rode as he bounced himself back into contention with a superb eagle at the eighth.

Mickelson by general consensus also won hands down over Woods in the popularity stakes.

The majority of the cheers emanating from the thousands of fans who massed around this moving feast of golf were for the San Diego man and in defeat he was by far the more gracious.

"I enjoyed the opportunity to play with Tiger, I enjoyed the chance to try to win a golf tournament, and I love the fact that I shot 30 to give myself an opportunity to win," said Mickelson.

"It was a very emotional day because it's up and down, up and down, a lot of highs and lows. The crowd, it made the highs even higher, and the moans made the lows even lower, and it was just an emotional day."

Woods on the other hand was dismissive of what had been an electrically-charged afternoon that put the excitement back into the Masters after three relatively drab years.

"I fought my swing all day and just kind of Band-Aided around and almost won the tournament with a Band-Aid swing today," he said. "It was just terrible."

What was going on was that Mickelson won their head-to-head by a stroke 67 to 68 and in the process grabbed an early psychological ascendancy into what is building up to be an exceptional year.

It was he who looked to be more in control of his swing with Woods errant off the tee, struggling grimly with his putting and generally exhuding an air of frustration that belied his superstar status.

Mickelson is now firmly re-established as the world No.2 and the main rival to Woods atop the rankings and the anticipation will be huge ahead of the next major - the US Open in mid-June - which will take place on one of the most famous public courses in the United States the Black Course at Bethpage on Long Island.

Mickelson finished second to Woods there in the 2002 version of the open, the first time the tournament had been held at the venue and it would be a magnificent spectacle if they were to be paired together again at the weekend.

Woods has yet to commit to any tournaments in the buildup to the defence of the title he won in such dramatic circumstances in San Diego last year and no doubt will be spending plenty of time with swing coach Hank Haney.

Mickelson looks set to play a full schedule through The Players Championship at Ponte Vedra, Florida, followed by the Byron Nelson Classic and the Crowne Plaza Invitational, both in Texas.


April 21, 2009

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