Mickelson Wins Buick Invitational

Monday, February 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Phil Mickelson spent the week at the Buick Invitational trying to recover from food poisoning that kept him from practicing and barely strong enough to play. In the end, it was Frank Lickliter who felt sick to his stomach.

Losing to Mickelson on the third playoff hole Sunday was bad enough. Worse yet was the score Mickelson required — a double bogey.

``Winning feels great,'' Mickelson said of his 18th career victory, none of them even remotely resembling this sideshow. ``It doesn't really matter how.''

Like in any playoff, winning required a mixture of skill and luck. In Mickelson's case, he also needed more help than anyone should expect.

With Tiger Woods having missed the three-man playoff by 2 strokes and Davis Love III eliminated on the second extra hole, Mickelson did everything possible to hand Lickliter his first victory after 158 starts on tour.

``I'm still in shock,'' Lickliter said, fighting back tears just moments after a three-putt from 12 feet for triple bogey. ``Other than getting stupid, I felt I played pretty good.''

Mickelson fanned his drive on the 425-yard 17th hole over the trees and into a canyon. All Lickliter had to do was find a flat piece of ground in play, and victory was all but assured.

Jean Van de Velde was already off the course, but his spirit lives.

Lickliter pulled out his driver. What followed was a mighty lash and words that can't be repeated as the ball followed Mickelson's straight into the canyon.

``The worst swing I made all week,'' Lickliter said.

What followed was a scene as bizarre as when Van de Velde played the final hole of the '99 British Open at Carnoustie, when he needed a double bogey to win and staggered to a triple bogey, eventually losing in a playoff.

Both players hit provisional tee shots in the fairway, assuming the balls would never be found. Both of them were, meaning Mickelson and Lickliter had to pick up their second tee shots and hit them again.

``If you find the ball, the provisional is no good,'' Lickliter said.

Lickliter split the middle with his third shot, while Mickelson against pushed his to the right and began screaming at the trees lining the canyon at Torrey Pines.

``Oh, no! Spit it out,'' he implored.

They did, but still left him a miserable lie, and Mickelson was lucky to hit his approach within 25 feet for a 2-putt double bogey.

Lickliter nailed his wedge within 12 feet, but then hit his first putt about 4 feet by. Imminent victory was gone. Another playoff hole was the best he could do.

He missed again.

``I wasn't thinking about anything other than making it,'' Lickliter said of his bogey putt. ``I felt like I hit a good putt, and I hit a better one on the second one.''

He had to settle for his second runner-up finish, the best he has done in six years on tour. His other second place was at Pebble Beach in 1999, when the late Payne Stewart hit a 5-iron within a couple of inches on the 18th in the third round for a 1-stroke lead, and the final round was washed out by rain.

``It's tough to swallow,'' Lickliter said. ``That's the outcome I have to take.''

Love almost felt as bad.

All three finished at 19-under 269. All of them had eagle putts on the 72nd hole that would have won. All of them had eagle putts on the 18th in the first playoff hole to win.

Love missed from 12 feet in the playoff, and was gone on the second extra hole when his 4-iron buried into the face of the bunker on the par-3 16th, and he couldn't save par.

After going 62 tournaments without a win, Love was close to making it two in a row. He started the final round with a 1-stroke lead and closed with a 67.

Mickelson and Lickliter each had 66s.

``Like I said yesterday, I needed to shoot the low round of the day,'' said Love, who closed with a 67. ``That would have done it. I didn't play great, but it was fun to be there.''

Lickliter played like a tested veteran until the final hole. He made a 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th and 2-putted for birdie on the 18th to get into the playoff.

Mickelson, meanwhile, squandered a 2-stroke lead on the back nine and missed a 12-foot eagle putt on the 72nd hole for the win.

He emerged the winner, earning $630,000 and winning for the fifth time in the last 12 months. The only guy who's won more than that is Woods, with seven victories (three of them majors).

Woods tried to make it interesting until he missed a 15-foot eagle putt on the last hole that would have given him a temporary tie for the lead. He shot 67 and wound up 2 strokes back and in fourth place, his best finish of the year.

``I felt like I played all right,'' Woods said. ``I got it around and scored, and that's the name of the game.''

The name of the game is winning, and there's only one each week. Mickelson didn't care how it came about, but he was sympathetic about the way it ended.

``It certainly was not a normal week,'' he said.