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Lefty's back - with a resounding bang


Phil 'Lefty' Mickelson broke a five-year winless drought at the WGC-Mexico Championship on Sunday when he defeated Justin Thomas, the Globe's standout young-gun right now, at the first extra hole of a playoff.

To win this sudden-death contest on the 17th hole of Mexico City's high-altitude Club de Golf Chapultepec, Michelson, a rare, regular right-handed who plays his golf as a left-hander, only needed to make par.

This because the 24-year-old 'Wunderkind' Thomas went from the exulting high of sinking his approach for a stunning eagle at the final hole in regulation to take himself two shots clear of the pack at 16-under, to the depressing low of over-flying the 17th green at the first hole of the playoff and then missing a critical par putt.

And yes, all this after having to wait for half-an-hour for the play-off during which time he saw Mickelson catch him with two late birdies and a 66.

If the 47-year-old Mickelson, whose 43 PGA Tour titles include five majors, was initially almost speechless and could not say much more than a wide-eyed "incredible!" you could hardly blame him.

This must be one of his greatest triumphs, not only because it came at a time in his long career when he is only three years away from qualifying to play seniors golf with all the fading greats of the game - but also, as he would later admit, because it happened "here in Mexico City in a WCG event against the best players in the world."

"I don't know what to say," he told Golf Channel. "It has been a tough go the last four years. Not playing my best but to have the belief I was going to get there and to finally break through and to do it feels incredible."

"It has left me with such an encouraging and validating feeling after all the lows and difficult times I have experienced the last four years,” he added.

Thomas, the reigning PGA Champion who was voted PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2016 after winning five times and who came to Mexico fresh from his playoff victory last week at the Honda Championship, looked ready to capture yet another title when, 'Tigerlike', he whisked up that magical eagle at the 72nd hole.

“To make that wedge (shot) on 18 was pretty unbelievable,” said a man who had started his week slowly with a 72 and a 70, but had bounced back with a course record 62 on 'moving Saturday' and a six-birdie, lone bogey 64 in his final round

But Mickelson, who had led earlier at 15-under before a bogey at 11 briefly caused him to stumble, boldly fought back with birdies at the 15th and 16th holes to reel in Thomas.

“There was none bigger than that one (on 16) because it got me tied with the leader who was already finished and in the clubhouse,” Mickelson said. “That gave me a chance to win it.”

Two of Europe's finest, Rafa Cabrera Bello (67) of Spain and England's Tyrrell Hatton (67) finished just one shot out of the playoff in a tie for third place on 15-under with Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (65) and the US rising star Brian Harman (68) in joint 5th place on 13-under.

Defending champion and World No 1 Dustin Johnson (69) and reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia (70) tied for 7th place on 12-under.
Ahead of next month's Masters, Mickelson is not the only ageing two-time Green Jacket winner looking to be a serious contender again this year.

Another Augusta National blast from the past with this claim is Bubba Watson who came back from a long spell in the doldrums to win at Riviera a few weeks back and this week in Mexico made the Top 10 in a 9th-place tie at 10-under with exciting upstarts Shubhankar Sharma of India and Adam Hadwin of Canada.

Looking ahead to the Masters, Mickelson, who will now soar from 34th to 18th in the World Rankings, said: "I feel like I am starting to play my best golf again.

"I know and respect and admire how great these young players are. Yet I welcome and cherish the opportunity to compete against them and to have had a little taste of success again has been really encouraging."

It has also been "a lot of fun"'

"I tried to look calm on the outside (on Sunday) but inside I was shaking - and I enjoy that.

"All those nerves that you feel; I haven't felt that in a long time because I haven't been in the last group in a long time.

"So yes, it has really been a lot of fun."

(Par 71 - the USA unless stated)

268 Phil Mickelson 69 68 65 66, Justin Thomas 72 70 62 64 (Mickelson won the playoff at the 1st extra hole)
269 Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP) 66 67 69 67, Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 70 68 64 67
271 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (THA) 66 69 71 65, Brian Harman 68 67 68 68
272 Dustin Johnson 69 66 68 69, Sergio Garcia (ESP) 68 65 69 70
274 Bubba Watson 69 66 72 67, Adam Hadwin (CAN) 70 71 67 66, Shubhankar Sharma (IND) 65 66 69 74
275 Paul Casey (ENG) 73 68 68 66, Patton Kizzire 69 69 71 66
276 Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 72 71 67 66, Daniel Berger 69 68 72 67, Alex Noren (SWE) 69 70 71 66, Jordan Spieth 70 67 69 70
277 Adam Bland 70 67 71 69, Xander Schauffele 65 68 70 74
278 Jon Rahm (ESP) 67 71 70 70, Brendan Steele 69 66 71 72, Jhonattan Vegas 70 68 69 71, Charley Hoffman 70 66 70 72, Pat Perez 68 67 68 75
279 Francesco Molinari (ITA) 71 70 70 68, Kyle Stanley 71 65 71 72
280 Jorge Campillo 72 71 69 68, Tony Finau 68 70 68 74
281 Kevin Kisner 70 71 66 74.

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Neville Leck

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