PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Phil Mickelson has now been working with super-teacher Butch Harmon for three tournaments.
Third at the EDS Byron Nelson. Third at the Wachovia Championship. One very big victory in The Players Championship.
"I can't wait to see what happens in three weeks, three months, or three years," Mickelson said Sunday after slipping past Sean O'Hair on the back nine of the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course and winning the PGA Tour's marquee event at 11-under-par 277, two shots clear of Sergio Garcia (66).
Harmon, former teacher to Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods, was constantly at Mickelson's side this week in practice sessions and competitive rounds, and the two worked together for 90 minutes before the final round.
When Mickelson left the 18th green after making a meaningless bogey to finish with 69, he walked the entire distance to the scoring area arm-in-arm with Harmon, and couldn't give him enough praise in interviews following his 31st PGA Tour victory and second of the year.
Micklelson gave Harmon the flag from the 18th hole and signed it: "Butch, the first of many!"
Scary stuff, since Mickelson wasn't exactly slumping without Harmon, at third in the world and with a victory at Pebble Beach. However, Mickelson's main goal in seeking out Harmon was to hit more fairways, especially under pressure, and that's exactly what happened in the final round.
"It's an incredible feat, when you think about it," Harmon said. "He did it in absolute style. It was textbook. He's got as much ability as anyone in the world except for Tiger, and I think if we can get him out in the fairway, he might be as good as Tiger."
Mickelson did enough of that to dispose of the 24-year-old O'Hair (76, after two balls hit into the water at the par-3 17th hole led to a quadruple-bogey 7) and keep an all-star list of contenders safely at bay.
Mickelson hit 10-of-14 fairways and 16-of-18 greens in the final round, after spraying the ball frequently in the first three rounds and managing to stay in contention with his short game and putting.
"It does mean a lot to have the results that I've had immediately," said Mickelson, who moved into second place behind Woods on the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup race with 4,950 points, and earned a record check of $1,620,000 from a total purse of $9 million. "It tells me I'm on the right path and that the things I'm doing are correct."
Garcia birdied four of his last five holes and backed into second place when O'Hair plummeted to 5-under and 11th place. Jose Maria Olazabal (67) and Stewart Cink (66) tied for third at 8-under, Jose Coceres (70) finished alone in fifth at 7-under and 2004 Players champion Adam Scott (67), J.P. Hayes (70), Jeff Quinney (73), Peter Lonard (73) and Robert Karlsson of Sweden (66) tied for sixth at 6-under.
Mickelson needed only the first hole to make a birdie and pull even with O'Hair at 9-under. Both birdied the par-5 second and Mickelson took his first lead of the day with a 2-foot birdie putt at the par-4 sixth.
O'Hair equaled that with an 8-foot birdie putt at No. 9 but it was the last birdie he made in the tournament.
Mickelson made it a two-shot lead with a birdie at the par-5 11th. O'Hair, in the meantime, made a disappointing par from the middle of the fairway, then missed ripe birdie opportunities at Nos. 12, 15 and 16.
After Mickelson found the putting surface of the 17th hole, O'Hair fired a 9-iron at the flag, expecting the wind to be in his face. However, the breeze died and the ball flew the green completely.
O'Hair's third shot from the drop area bounced once and into the water, and after his fifth shot stayed dry, he two-putted for his quad.