Phil Mickelson retained the Northern Trust Open title at Riviera in California by a single stroke from Steve Stricker and climbed back to number three on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Mickelson endured a roller-coaster week at Riviera and almost blew a four shot advantage in the final round. With some wayward driving, he found himself two shots behind with three to play. But, digging deep he made an excellent birdie at the 16th then drove the green at the short par-4 17th before two-putting for another birdie. A par at the 18th was enough for a one shot victory.
“I’m pleased to be sitting here as the champion,” Mickelson said. “And it was not easy. I had a five-shot lead and I let it slide. The good thing was that I was able to fight hard. Even though I didn’t have my best stuff, I was able to fight through it.”
Lefty had been going through something of a slump before this tournament, he hadn’t been in the top-20 in any of his first three tournaments. But, he began the week strongly with an impressive 63 and it seemed he had re-found his game.
A one over par 72 in round two was less convincing, but Mickelson then roared back on Saturday with a superb 62. He was 10 shots worse than that in the final round but it was just enough to claim his 35th PGA Tour title and climb over Padraig Harrington into third spot on the Official World Golf Ranking.
49-year-old Fred Couples had a chance at victory but he needed a birdie on the final hole. His approach missed the green and hit a eucalyptus tree. He made bogey and had to settle for a tie for third. It was a difficult week for the former Masters Champion as his estranged wife Thais Baker died of breast cancer on Tuesday. They had never officially divorced after splitting up four years ago.
“She was a nice person,” he said. “She did everything she could to make it another month.”
Steve Stricker came closest to stealing the title from Mickelson but he missed putts on the 17th and 18th and fell just one shot shy.
“It’s just a little disappointing when you don’t finish it off, or have the opportunity to finish it off,” he said. “And I didn’t.”
Northern Trust Open
Riviera Country Club, California
Feb 19-22, purse $6,300,000, par 71
1 Phil Mickelson (USA) 63 72 62 72 269 $1,134,000
2 Steve Stricker (USA) 68 66 69 67 270 $680,400
T3 KJ Choi (Kor) 66 69 67 69 271 $327,600
T3 Fred Couples (USA) 67 70 68 69 271 $327,600
T3 Andres Romero (Arg) 66 70 65 70 271 $327,600
T6 Mark Calcavecchia (USA) 70 69 64 69 272 $203,963
T6 Luke Donald (Eng) 66 69 69 68 272 $203,963
T6 JB Holmes (USA) 73 67 64 68 272 $203,963
T6 Rory Sabbatini (RSA) 68 67 67 70 272 $203,963
Note: Players in bold signifies Titleist ball usage only