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By Mark F. Gray

Phil Mickelson may have won the 2010 Masters but even in defeat it was Tiger Woods who proved once he steps between the ropes on a golf course he is still the man. The world’s number one golfer wasn’t at his best for 72 holes but he was able to push aside all the distractions to shoot 11 under par in a major championship which was his first tournament of the season.

Mickelson played nearly flawless and was brilliant in chasing down and ultimately passing Lee Westwood to claim his third green jacket. With each shot on the back nine Sunday the gallery and the television audience was waiting for a lefty implosion where he would give another major championship away. This time, however, Mickelson made all the big shots and putts down the stretch to win the title in front of his wife who is fighting breast cancer.

Meanwhile, Woods shooting 11 under after a self imposed exile and dealing with the distractions born of his transgressions was a feat that is nothing short of amazing. Tiger’s fourth place finish was not about his being the best player in the world as much as it was about his ability to grind. Nobody expects the game’s number one player – in more ways than one – to tough through two days where he lost his swing but was able to shoot under par.

Woods training regimen is notorious for being as intense as those who play team sports. However, his time in sex rehab may have helped him overcome his demons but didn’t help his conditioning. As Tiger sprayed tee shots and approaches onto adjacent fairways with regularity it was clear that he wasn’t in game shape. His body failed him thus he lost his swing and was part time erratic and part time brilliant.

Vince Lombardi once said that “fatigue makes cowards of us all”. In this case fatigue cost Tiger his fifth green jacket. Woods opened the final round with three bogeys in his first five holes and finished with five on the day. He was Kobe Bryant with no elevation on his jumper or Clinton Portis not being able to explode through the hole to get a critical first down. Nonetheless, even in losing Woods’ brilliance still came through.

He also had two eagles on Sunday which gave him an unprecedented four for the tournament. Had he been more consistent and pared three of the five holes he bogeyed this would have been the most compelling story of the year. Woods shot four rounds under par and two of those rounds were below 70. He played the par five holes at 15 under par for the weekend. If there had been more discipline in his personal life then he would have been within one victory tying him with Jack Nicklaus for most Masters victories all time with five at the end of Sunday’s round.

Considering all he went through in the four months leading up to the Masters, Woods performance ranks as one of his best . But the final images of golf’s first major were telling at the end. Woods stood by himself relieved and strong though disappointed that he didn’t win as he faced the media swarm. Mickelson, however, shared a warm embrace with a kiss from his ailing wife Amy and his family by his side.

There is nothing Mickelson can teach Woods about playing the game. However, Tiger may want to take a page from Lefty when it comes to family.