April 5, 2005 in Sports

Tuning for Masters, Mickelson captures BellSouth in a playoff

Tom Saladino Associated Press
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DULUTH, Ga. – Phil Mickelson made a 20-foot birdie putt on the fourth playoff hole Monday to win the BellSouth Classic over Rich Beem and give the defending Masters champion momentum heading to Augusta.

Mickelson, Jose Maria Olazabal, Beem, Jobe Brandt and Arjun Atwal tied at 8-under 208 after the final round in the rain-shortened 54-hole tournament to set up the five-man playoff.

Brandt and Arjun were eliminated on the first playoff hole and Olazabal was out after the third playoff hole.

“There were probably 6 to 10 people who could have won this tournament. I don’t know how I dodged the bullet,” said Mickelson. “I’m looking forward to the Masters.”

Mickelson won it on the par-4, 455-yard 17th when he hit his drive in the fairway, put his second shot 20 feet from the hole and sank the putt.

Beem, who hasn’t won since the PGA championship in 2002, hit into a fairway bunker on the final playoff hole. His second shot was about 20 yards short of the green where he pitched to about 2 feet, setting up a par putt that wasn’t needed.

Olazabal, the two-time Masters champion, had a chance to win on the par-5, 576-yard 18th in regulation to avoid a playoff, but missed a 5-foot birdie putt and settled for par and 69.

He also had a second chance to win on the first playoff hole, missing another 5-foot birdie putt on No. 18. He was eliminated on the third playoff hole when he hit two balls in the water on 18.

“I had a chance to win it (in regulation) and didn’t. Had a second chance and missed it,” said Olazabal, who also heads to the Masters with his game in pretty good shape.

Mickelson (69), Beem (68), Brandt (67) and the little known Atwal (64), a native of India and a regular on the Asian tour for eight years, each birdied their last hole to earn a playoff berth along with Olazabal.

Mickelson and Beem had pars on the first playoff hole to advance to the second playoff hole along with Olazabal. Brandt and Atwal each hit into the water that guarded the green on 18, shot over par and were out.

Olazabel, Mickelson and Beem each parred the second playoff hole, the 17th, to send it back to 18 for the third playoff hole.

Mickelson and Beem advanced to the fourth playoff hole when each had tap-in birdies on No. 18.

With the weather sunny and in the 70s, the scores came down Monday after the first two rounds were washed out by rain Thursday and Friday and delayed 99 minutes on Saturday at the TPC at Sugar Loaf.

Scott McCarron, who led by a stroke entering the final round and the 1997 and 2001 winner here, shot a 76 and was well back at 214. Defending champion Zach Johnson had a 72 and was at 213.

Mickelson, the tour’s leading money-winner, earned $900,000 of the $5 million purse.

The world’s No. 4 player had a strange round as he prepared for Thursday’s start at Augusta.

Mickelson wound up with seven birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey in regulation. He was all over the course with his driver on the opening nine, finishing with a 37, including hitting into water twice and drawing a 1-shot penalty on each. He also tried to hit out of a creek bed and moved it only a foot on No. 9 and had a bogey. He then had a bogey-free back nine for a 32 with four birdies.

“My swing started to feel good on the back. Somehow I hung in there and got lucky,” he said.

Mickelson is one of the 19 players who remained in the field playing in the Masters.

Tied for sixth, one stroke back at 209 were Frank Licklighter (68), Scott Dunlap (69), Arron Oberholser (69) and Tag Ridings (69).

Rain has affected eight of the 14 tournaments on tour this year.

The BellSouth had 25 entrants also playing at the Masters. Only 11 made it to Monday’s final round. The others either withdrew or failed to make the cut.

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