Like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, Phil Mickelson does his best work when no one's paying attention.
Coming into Sunday at the AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am, exactly no one outside of Phil's Phanatics was paying attention to Mickelson, despite the fact that he was within sight of 54-hole leader Charlie Wi. No, the story of the evening was Tiger Woods and if he could close out a full-field tournament for the first time in more than two years. (Spoiler: no.) Mickelson, as he's done at so many tournaments, simply lay in the weeds, waiting for his chance, calmly keeping his head as those all around him on the leaderboard were losing theirs.
The result? One of Mickelson's most dominating wins ever, an 8-under bogey-free triumph from start to finish at one of the world's signature golf courses.
"What a round," said Mickelson's wife, Amy, while embracing him as he came off the 18th green. "Are you kidding me?"
As Wi was self-destructing and Woods was failing to capitalize on birdie chances, Mickelson reeled off a devastating three-hole combo — birdie, birdie, eagle — from hole Nos. 4 to 6. That capped off a run in which he sliced five strokes off his Saturday 70, and he never looked back. Pars on the next six holes kept him steady, and a one-two birdie punch on 13 and 14 effectively destroyed any chance his challengers may have had.
Mickelson stood on the tee at 18 with a three-stroke lead, the winds off the Pacific Ocean swirling up to his left, the waves hammering at the rocks below the monstrous bunker that runs nearly the length of the hole. We saw something like this earlier this season, as Kyle Stanley gave away a three-stroke lead on 18 at the Farmers Insurance Open.
With all due respect to Mr. Stanley … Phil Mickelson is no Kyle Stanley.
Mickelson played the 18th as he had every other hole on the course: with smart confidence. The result? A final-round 64 to finish 17-under for the tournament, hammering down his fourth win at Pebble Beach.
"Being able to play the way I did these last 18 holes means a lot," Mickelson said afterward. "Hopefully it's just one of a few [wins] this year, because I'm starting to feel it."
Of course, the Pebble Beach pro-am isn't exactly set up to U.S. Open conditions; when Graeme McDowell won at Pebble in 2010, he did so with a final score of even par. That score wouldn't have made the cut this week. But hey, when you've got guys like Patriots coach Bill Belichick playing in a cutoff-sleeved hoodie, you make a few accommodations here and there.
Still, a win is a win, and a win at Pebble is even finer. Mickelson already has his ticket to the World Golf Hall of Fame, and days like this only demonstrate his undeniable, if not necessarily impeccable, qualifications. Mickelson is now the tenth PGA Tour player to record at least 40 wins on Tour.
And he's quietly shaking off the demon that is Tiger Woods. In the last five final rounds the two have played together, Mickelson has won all five. He's been ranked ahead of Woods for months now in the official World Golf Rankings. And the way both men approached a championship Sunday — Mickelson charging, Woods quailing — speaks volumes about their mindsets right now.
It's a February victory against an admittedly weak field, yes. But on Sunday, Mickelson looked as close to unbeatable as he's looked in years. Drives staying where they belonged, approaches sticking on the greens like they were dropped in pudding, putts rolling in from halfway down Monterey Peninsula … Mickelson was effectively flawless on Sunday to early his fourth Tour win at Pebble Beach.
And the fact that he kept his greatest enemy — not Tiger, but Phil himself — at bay may be the greatest triumph of all. Augusta just got that much more interesting.
Other popular content on Yahoo! network:
• Justin Tuck visits New York City cop who survived gunshot wound to head
• How does Manny Pacquiao stack up against his next opponent?
• Whitney Houston's national anthem inspired America at Super Bowl XXV