Lefty Loose; Tiger Tight at Pebble Beach

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Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods paired together in final round of AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

<p> Phil Mickelson won his 40th PGA Tour event with a dominant effort at the AT&amp;T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, while final round playing partner Tiger Woods struggled to miss five putts within five feet.</p>

By winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Phil Mickelson earned his 40th career PGA Tour victory and proved he still has the mojo to win another major championship — having already won three times at The Masters (2004, ’06, ’10) and once at the PGA Championship (2005).

Final round playing partner Tiger Woods was helplessly unable to stay stride-for-stride with Lefty on Sunday; wife Amy watched beaming beautifully just behind the rope greenside at No. 18; and even tournament host Clint Eastwood lightened his mood in the booth with CBS’s Jim Nantz one week after making news with his shadowy somber Chrysler “It’s halftime, America” Super Bowl commercial.

The rest of the golf world sat back and marveled as Phil the Thrill dismantled Pebble Beach and Tiger disintegrated, uncharacteristically yipping his way through the round, turning short par putts into bogeys while displaying the type of body language only Jay Cutler could appreciate.

Although Woods wore enough of his signature Sunday red — with a Nike polo under a black vest — to indicate he believed himself to be a contender in California, Sunday’s version of Tiger in no way resembled the cutthroat 14-time major champion fans were hoping to see go toe-to-toe with Mickelson.

But no one told Phil that the Michael Jordan of golf faded away after Tiger limped to the 2008 U.S. Open (and may have been crushed completely when Woods’ gated-community life ran off the road Thanksgiving weekend 2009).

Mickelson played as if he were up against a roaring No. 1-ranked twentysomething wunderkind with Steve Williams bullying on the bag — not the player he was actually facing, a currently middling doppelganger wearing a TW hat and old man golf shoes with average Joe LaCava caddying.

“I just feel very inspired when I play with (Tiger),” said Mickelson, after shooting 8-under 64 on Sunday to overcome a six-shot deficit against 54-hole leader Charlie Wi.

“I love playing with (Tiger), and he brings out some of my best golf. I hope that he continues to play better and better. And I hope that he and I have a chance to play together more in the final rounds.”

While Mickelson basked in the afterglow of victory following the only bogey-free round Pebble Beach saw all day, Tiger could only stew in his second straight Sunday slide from contention, after a similar — albeit lower profile — slip at Abu Dhabi on the European Tour last week.

“I putted awful,” said Woods, who missed five putts from within five feet, with 31 total putts en route to posting a disappointing 3-over 75 final round.

“Anything I tried to do wasn’t working. Consequently, I made a ton of mistakes on the green.”

With Tiger headed back to the driving range (or better yet, the practice green) to tweak his game, Phil offered insight from his unique perspective. Yet, Mickelson’s vantage point is the same sightline as those fans bellied up to the bar or reclining on the couch.

As much or more than anyone, Phil is hopefully optimistic — bordering on wishfully thinking — that Tiger is in the process of turning the proverbial corner.

“I know the score wasn’t what (Tiger) wanted and I know he didn’t putt the way he wanted to,” said Mickelson.

“But you could tell that he’s really close.”

by Nathan Rush

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