|1998 Mercedes Championship - Final Notes|
|by Martin Olivera|
Phil Mickelson held off a charge by Orlando residents Mark O'Meara (64) and neighbor Tiger Woods (64), shooting a 4-under 68 to win his second Mercedes Championships in four years. This was the last time this tournament is played at La Costa, after 30 years. This win is Mickelson's 12th on the PGA TOUR, and earned him $306,000 and a Mercedes Benz SL500. It also extends his streak of TOUR victories to six years, sharing the lead in this category with Greg Norman.
It was a great day for golf at La Costa today. The course was soft, there was very little wind and, most importantly, it was "lift-clean-and-place". In spite some water-saturated areas due to some overnight rain, the course was in great condition. This set up the stage for anyone to shoot a low score.
"It was an exciting victory for me and a great way to start 1998", said Mickelson. "I knew I needed to play well today because someone out there, no one in particular, would go low". He had seven birdies and three bogeys in a round that did not start very promising when he bogeyed (3-putted) the first hole. The same happened, by the way, when he won the Buick Invitational in 1992, just a few miles down the road at Torrey Pines. "I thought about that", said Mickelson, "but some of my best rounds started with a bogey". He recovered from that bogey with birdies on #3 (from 15 feet), and #4 (from 18 feet). When he was arriving to the 7th tee, a loud roar exploded around the 9th green, only about 70 yards away. It was Tiger Woods sinking a 30-footer for eagle to move to 13-under and only a shot back. "That really changed the way I went about my tee shot on #7 and the rest of the round", Mickelson said. "I knew then that I had to start making birdies". He answered Woods' eagle with a great 7-iron tee-shot that landed 15 feet past the flag. He barely missed the putt, though.
When Woods and O'Meara, who spent the afternoon throwing birdies at each other, birdied #10 (O'Meara holing a spectacular 50-foot bunker shot, and Woods sinking a 15-footer), the winners of three out of the last four Mercedes Championships (Mickelson, O'Meara and Woods) were tied for the lead at 14-under. But Mickelson quickly moved up when he birdied #9 (driver, driver, 35 yard pitch, 10 feet), and then #10 (9-iron to 12 feet). And while Woods and O'Meara, playing three groups ahead, kept making birdies to narrow the gap (O'Meara on #13 and #18, Woods on #12 and #15), Mickelson duly responded with birdies on #12 and #13. He made bogey on #14 (missed the green and failed to recover from a bunker) but birdied #15 right back. "I had one thing they (Woods and O'Meara) didn't have ... three more holes", Mickelson said. "I watched the leaderboard all afternoon". He bogeyed #18 after a hook off the tee forced him to hit his second shot from the trees into the left greenside bunker. "It wasn't a hard shot ... I knew I could make at worst bogey from there (greenside bunker)". "It's easier to make 6 from the left side of the fairway than from the right", he added. His par putt was just short. When the day was over, he ended up the only player in the field to shoot all four rounds in the 60's, winning with a 271 (17-under-par).
Woods and O'Meara. The cavalry from Orlando. They are friends, they are neighbors, they practice together, today they played together, they shot the same score (64), and they gave the press conference together. "We tied our match", said O'Meara. "He made the putt in the last hole to tie the match", added Woods. "He always does something to me in the last hole". They both scored one short of the course record set by Lee Janzen in 1995. Woods played the last three rounds of this tournament without making a bogey. But it wasn't enough. "I played so-so today, but made a lot of putts and had really good breaks out there. He (Woods) made an easy 64", said O'Meara. "When I made birdie on #10 I thought 'The game is on'", added Woods, who had made his second eagle of the week on #9 (driver, 3 wood, 30-footer). "I play with Tiger very often, so I'm not intimidated by what he can do on a golf course", O'Meara said. "We fed from each other to get the round going", added Woods. Their effort fell just one shot short.
Mickelson played with David Duval who was trying for his fourth win in a row. He never got his round going, shot 73 and ended in a tie for 6th place. Nick Price and John Cook, representing the "40+" (age group) contingent, both only managed to shoot 70 and finished four shots back in a tie for fourth. O'Meara was the "40+" with the best finish.
Next year the Mercedes Championships moves to Hawaii. A 64-player match-play event will come to La Costa in February, the Andersen Consulting World Match Play Championship. "It'll be a great event on a great course", said Mickelson. "La Costa in February is a different course ... harder", he added. "And now that Bank of America is sponsoring the West Coast events, a lot more players will come to play in them. The leading money winner at the end of the West Coast Swing will easily be over a million. Players won't be able to afford to wait for Doral (Bay Hill Classic) to start the year anymore", remarked Mickelson. Well, at least we'll have Mickelson, O'Meara and Woods.
Notes From La Costa