On Sundayevening, after Phil Mickelson had finished what seemed like an endless seriesof TV and radio interviews, he made it back to the scorer's tent behind the18th green at Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club, where his caddie, Jim (Bones)MacKay, waited. MacKay and his boss wore big, satisfied grins as they shared ahearty handshake. "Best idea you've ever had, Bones," Mickelson saidbefore heading out to the green for the trophy presentation. ¬∂ Mickelson hadjust won the Tour Championship, the fourth and final event of the FedEx Cupplayoffs. Won it? More like dominated it. Despite an embarrassingquadruple-bogey 8 on Thursday, Mickelson shot brilliant rounds of 66 and 65 onthe weekend for a nine-under 271 to finish three strokes ahead of runner-upTiger Woods, who didn't leave empty-handed either. Woods ended up atop thestandings in the controversial-yet-ultimately-exciting playoffs to take hissecond FedEx Cup title, which came with a $10 million prize. In other words,Mickelson won the battle but Tiger won the war.
That battle,however, may have long-term implications, thanks to MacKay's brainstorm.Mickelson recently confided to MacKay that he was struggling with his puttingstroke, something that had been obvious for months. MacKay suggested that hecall Dave Stockton, a two-time PGA Championship winner and the 1991 Ryder Cupcaptain, who ranks among the best putters in the game's history.
Stockton happenedto be in San Diego, where Mickelson lives, last month to work with Michelle Wieat an LPGA tournament. Stockton and Mickelson got together, and in only acouple of sessions they rediscovered the deadly stroke that Mickelson broughtto the Tour 17 years ago.
Mickelson used tohave a forward press at address—that is, he moved his hands well ahead of theball to begin his stroke. That's how Stockton putted, too, and he had Mickelsongo back to his old setup. "Dave said, 'Nobody will putt as well as you andI because we're leading with the back of our hands,'" Mickelson said."This is the best way to putt. Once he said that, I went, 'Yeah, that'sright.' It's been a night-and-day difference."
The stat of theweek at East Lake was Mickelson's 36 one-putt greens during the 37th win of hisremarkable career. NBC analyst Johnny Miller was so taken with Mickelson'sperformance that he picked him as the Tour's player of the year—for 2010.
But before we gothere, here are SI's picks for the end-of-2009 awards.
Most Improved TheFedEx Cup. Yes, the seasonlong points system is complicated, but during theplayoffs the golf was mostly terrific, everyone in the field at East Lake hadat least a mathematical shot, and interest was unquestionably high.
Planet ObviousPlayer of the Year Is there a more predictable award in golf? Why not simplyrename the POY award the Tiger Woods Trophy after the nine-time winner and getit over with? Woods may not have won a major in '09, but his six victories werethree more than the next biggest winners, Mickelson and Steve Stricker, hadthis year.
Say Cheese Playerof the Year At 42, Stricker enjoyed a career year. In addition to his threewins, he was a runner-up twice and became the first Wisconsin native to reachNo. 2 in the World Ranking.
Comeback Playerof the Year Woods again, in a race as suspenseful as a Burmese election. As weall know, Woods had reconstructive surgery on his left knee and missed thesecond half of the '08 season, yet he bounced back with one of his moreconsistent years.
Shot of the YearOn the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, Y.E. Yang hit abrilliant 210-yard approach with a 21-degree hybrid over a tree and to within10 feet of the hole, leading to a birdie that catapulted him to a three-shotwin over Woods.
Best Early-SeasonWinner We Should Have Taken More Seriously Yang, who won for the first time onTour at the Honda Classic in March.
Groundhog DayPutt of the Year Stop me if you've heard this before: Woods, this time for his15-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational(for the sixth time) by a shot.
Tom TerrificTournament of the Year There's only one event that we are still talkingabout—the British Open, during which 59-year-old Tom Watson was poised to dothe impossible. Not only was he going to blow away the record as the oldestmajor champion, but he also was going to tie Harry Vardon for most Open wins(six). Watson looked like a sure thing until his approach on the 72nd holerolled over the green into an awkward lie. Watson putted his ball 10 feet pastthe hole and put a poor stroke on the par putt that would've given him thehistoric win. He ran out of gas in the anticlimactic playoff and lost toStewart Cink, but Watson's performance was golf's inspirational moment of2009.
Sob Story of theYear See above.
Upset of the YearCheck out this scenario: Woods has a seven-footer for birdie on the 72nd holeat the Barclays. Heath Slocum has a 20-footer for par on the same hole. One ofthem makes his putt to win the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs. The othermisses and ties for second. Tiger makes, Slocum misses, right? Wrong. Slocum'sclutch putt vaulted him from 124th (out of 125 starters) to third in FedEx Cuppoints, and he eventually collected $2.5 million in the playoffs.
Brief EncounterAward Henrik Stenson let it all hang out when he stripped to his shorts to playout of a water hazard during the CA Championship because he didn't want to soilhis shirt and slacks. C'mon, man. Why risk playing the rest of the day in wetundies?
Best Needle in aSupporting Role A day after the CA Championship, at the Tavistock Cup inOrlando, which pits the Tour pros from Isleworth Country Club against those whoare members at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, Woods (Isleworth) presentedStenson (Lake Nona) with a pair of autographed Nike briefs on the 1st tee.
MadoffMad-As-Hell Award Disgraced financier Allen Stanford, whose empire crumbledunder a federal investigation and indictment for fraud. The Stanford name wasremoved from the St. Jude Championship, which Stanford had agreed to sponsorfor $50 million over seven years.
Losing-Your-Shorts Quote of the Year Stenson, who had a sponsorship deal aswell as personal investments with Stanford: "I'm trying to focus on playinggolf in my underwear and letting other people focus on my finances."
Tugging-on-Superman's-Cape Quote of the Year Jim Furyk, when informed that U.S.Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples plans to pair him with Woods at next week'smatches: "Well, I guess I'll have to carry him again." Furyk thenquickly added, "Make sure you note that there was a smile on my face when Isaid that." So noted.
Gay Romp of theYear Take your pick: Brian Gay shooting 20 under par to win the VerizonHeritage by a whopping 10 strokes, or Gay going 18 under at the St. JudeChampionship to win by five.
Short-KnockerStat of the Year Gay ranks 192nd in driving distance, at 268.0 yards per teeshot, ahead of only Corey Pavin (260.7).
Best Year-AfterRyder Cup Perk "People stopped calling me Justin Leonard," said U.S.hero Hunter Mahan.
Twit and WitAward After launching consecutive tee shots out-of-bounds at the 10th holeduring the second round of the Tour Championship and making a quadruple-bogey8, Cink asked his Twitter followers (who number more than 930,000) to come upwith a nickname for him. The winning entry: Ocho Cinko.
For freshinsights and opinions from SI Golf Group writers, go toGOLF.com/confidential
Photographs by FRED VUICH
TWICE BLESSED Woods's Sunday best, a scrambling 70, couldn't beat Mickelson (top, left) but was still worth $10 million.
ROBERT BECK (WATSON)
TOUR DE FORCES Highlights of 2009 include (clockwise from top) Watson's heartbreaker at Turnberry, Furyk's bold prediction, Yang's upset, a Stenson strip show and Stricker's solid play.
ROBERT BECK (FURYK)
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ROBERT BECK (YANG)
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KYLE AUCLAIR/GETTY IMAGES (STENSON)
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DARREN CARROLL (STRICKER)
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