Good guy bad news for other pros

DULUTH - Throw good guy in with all the other attributes associated with Phil Mickelson's golf game. When others left this year's weather-beaten BellSouth Classic to head down the road to Augusta he stayed, knowing good and well it would delay him getting to the Masters.

It was the right thing to do and Mickelson said as much, citing a loyalty to the Duluth tournament. But after Monday's playoff-winning performance there were plenty of golfers who wished the No. 4-ranked golfer in the world had been more of a jerk and left.

At least then they would have had a chance.

Mickelson's win, his second at the BellSouth, kept alive his sterling record in the state of Georgia, a run he hopes to continue later this week at the Masters. And hopefully it showed something else as well - that you can prepare for a major tournament by playing real honest-to-goodness tournament golf.

"It is very nerve-wracking and you feel the butterflies when you're in a sudden-death playoff, coming down the stretch knowing I needed to make birdies to get in the playoff - feeling that anxiety, that excitement, the stuff I feel every day in a major championship," Mickelson said. "It's great to prepare for the Masters this way.

"Sometimes it's culture shock for me when I stand on the first tee on Thursday at a major having not played well or having not played a tournament for a few weeks."

That won't be a problem Thursday at Augusta. Mickelson said he wanted to be tested under the toughest of conditions and he got that and more during Monday's action. He needed a birdie on his final hole of regulation to get into a five-way playoff and then went through the process of surviving and moving on until he sank a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 17 to win on the fourth hole of the playoff.

It was an impressive performance for Mickelson, who tied for 20th on the PGA Tour's all-time win list with his 26th career victory, in large part because he showed the fortitude that helped him break through and win his first major last April at the Masters. He did not play well on the front side, hitting three balls into hazards, but battled back to shoot 4 under on the back nine to get into the playoff.

So on a day when he had his struggles, Mickelson kept himself in contention long enough to take advantage of others' mistakes, pushing his playoff record to 7-1.

"I am kind of proud of myself for how I fought through that and gutted it out and made birdies and hit shots when I needed (them)," he said.

While Mickelson staying meant a lot to the people who put on the BellSouth, that decision ended up being a dream killer for the four guys who went against him in the playoff. There was no shortage of interesting stories in the group:

Arjun Atwal going for his first win despite starting the week as an alternate

Brandt Jobe, 39, bidding for his first PGA Tour win

Jose Maria Olazabal trying for his first Tour win in three years

Rich Beem going for his first win since the 2002 PGA Championship

Any of those players would have made for a good champion, but on a week when others bailed for Augusta instead of waiting things out in Duluth it was fitting that Mickelson got the win.

Now he hopes to join Sandy Lyle, the last player to win a PGA Tour event and then win a major the following week. After all, what could be better practice for winning than winning?

"I look at it as a great way to build some momentum, to take the intensity and focus that I had to have on the back nine to get into the playoff and take that into Thursday's opening round," Mickelson said. "I think it very well could be a benefit."

Here's hoping it is.

Todd Cline can be reached via e-mail at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Tuesdays.