Phil Mickelson of the U.S. holds the trophy after winning the HSBC Champions golf tournament at Shanghai Sheshan International Golf Club Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009 in Shanghai, China. Mickelson finished at 17-under 271. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
SHANGHAI -- Phil Mickelson eased through a crush of spectators and into a courtesy van, telling them he would sign autographs in front of the Sheshan International clubhouse after he had a chance to eat.
His plate of food gone, he took one last swig of his soda, rose from the table and said, "Let's go see who's waiting."
Hardly anyone had left.
Mickelson proved to be as popular in Shanghai as he is in the States. He said all the right things at the opening press conference about his responsibility to play in China to help grow the game, and the two golf projects he is building with an emphasis on teaching and attracting kids and their families.
He saved his best work for Sunday in the HSBC Champions.
First, he quickly dispatched of Tiger Woods and all the buzz over the latest battle between the world's top two players, expanding a two-shot to six over the front nine. Then, he rallied to beat another familiar foe, Ernie Els, with timely putts in the final hour.
Mickelson wound up with the perfect finish to his week -- and his year.
He closed with a 3-under 69 for a one-shot victory over Els, his fourth victory of the year, and joined Woods as the only players to capture two World Golf Championship events in the same year. Mickelson won the CA Championship at Doral in the spring.
This one won't count in the PGA Tour record book -- at least not yet.
It sure felt that way to Mickelson, who finished at 17-under 271 and at least can have the $1.2 million show up in his bank account.
"I think it would be great if it would count, but it doesn't take away from the fact that I beat 15 of the 20 best players in the world, and the gratifying feeling of having this trophy," he said.
He expected to work hard for this victory, although he would not have imagined the lead characters.
Mickelson started the final round with a two-shot lead over Woods and Nick Watney. Anticipation was so great that thousands of fans created a bottleneck at the entrance, and nearly 8,000 spectators lined both sides of the opening hole.
Woods, however, soon became little more than a spectator himself.
He missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the second hole that would have cut Mickelson's lead to one shot. With Mickelson 3 feet away for birdie on the third, Woods missed from 10 feet. Then came the par-3 fourth, where Woods pulled his tee shot into a canal.
And on the seventh, Woods flinched at the sound of several camera shutters and pushed his drive into a plugged lie in the bunker. A birdie hole soon became a scramble for bogey, and Woods suddenly was six shots behind.
He made three straight birdies starting at No. 9, but by then it was simply too late. Woods hit one last shot into the water on the 18th, scrambled for bogey and wound up with a 72 to tie for sixth place, five shots behind.
Woods, who shot worse than Mickelson both times they played together in final rounds this year, chalked it up to a day in which nothing went right for the world's No. 1 player.
"I didn't really envision shooting even par today," Woods said. "The guys took it deep, and I didn't."
Els was on the verge of a course record -- 10 under through 17 holes -- and was leading by one shot with his ball safely in the 18th fairway, 218 yards away, when he hit 5-wood into the water for a bogey that gave him a 63.
"But I can't think about that," Els said, who started the round seven shots behind. "For me to come back all the way, to actually share the lead at that point, was quite nice. I'm disappointed about that, but I'm going to really think about the 63 I shot."
Mickelson was too groups behind Els, one shot behind and on the ropes. Facing a risky flop shot, the blade of his 60-degree wedge slid under the ball -- a whiff. Then, he tried to run his third shot up the green and it barely made it. Looking at bogey, Mickelson knocked in an 18-foot par putt that he called his best in a long time.
Then came a 10-foot birdie on the par-3 17th, and the tournament was in the bag.
"I think we all expected that Tiger and myself would be shooting in the mid-60s and pull away a little bit," Mickelson said. "And yet, our group was not making any birdies. It was the groups in front of us. And I was very fortunate to come out on top by a shot. But this feels terrific, because I had to fight very hard throughout the day. Nothing came easy."
Mickelson left with the trophy in his hands and an emerging golf nation in his back pocket.
"The galleries were much bigger than the past two years, and I'm very excited to see that people in China are getting excited about golf," Mickelson said. "The people here in China have been so nice to me."
He returns next year as defending champion -- his second HSBC Champions title in three years -- with many more trips along the way. Mickelson has a course south of Beijing called "The World Course," which will include an academy program he started with former swing coach Rick Smith and a golf museum.
He also is building another golf complex, which includes a par 3, in Kunming.
"I hope that this win will help the golf courses that I'm designing, and the academies that I am putting up here with Rick Smith, because I want to help grow the game," Mickelson said. "And the people that were out here today, I want to have an opportunity for them to be able to play."
They only watched on Sunday, and most of them liked what they saw.