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Mickelson puts on Arnie charge to win Bay Hill

March 24, 1997

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ He walked past the framed pictures in the clubhouse of the King, Arnold Palmer, thrusting his putter skyward or slinging his fist across his body during one of his famous charges.

Then he saw a leaderboard loaded with two dozen players in contention on a cloudy, calm day that would allow someone to sneak up from behind.

Winning the Bay Hill Invitational was no longer a secret to Phil Mickelson.

``I tried to emulate the master,″ he said.

Mickelson, three strokes behind with eight holes to play, holed a 40-foot eagle from off the fringe during a torrid stretch of four holes and won Palmer’s tournament Sunday with a 7-under-par 65.

He finished at 16-under 272 for a three-stroke victory over Stuart Appleby. Mickelson, who won his 10th PGA Tour event, earned $270,000 along with the gray blazer and Scottish-styled sword that comes with winning at Bay Hill.

``Going into today, I was trying to think that this was Arnie’s tournament and what would he do?″ Mickelson said. ``He’d put on a charge, so that’s what I tried to do.″

He wasn’t as emotionally compelling as Palmer was in his prime, but the soft smile and gleam in Mickelson’s eyes were more evident with every putt that fell during his record-tying 30 on the back nine at Bay Hill Club.

For most of Sunday, Mickelson didn’t look like the one who would make the charge. He made the turn at 1-under 35 and was three strokes behind Appleby when he knocked in a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 11

``That was an important putt,″ Mickelson said. ``I needed to see something go in.″

Then he hit two drivers to get to the fringe of the 570-yard 12th hole. His putt died on the left edge and dropped in to give him a share of the lead with Appleby, Payne Stewart and Omar Uresti.

``I still can’t believe that putt went in from there,″ Mickelson said of the only eagle on No. 12 all week. ``All I was trying to do was make birdie and creep up on the leaders. That threw me up there quicker than I expected.″

And just like that, he was nearly out of their reach.

A sand wedge to 15 feet on No. 13 gave him another birdie, and he completed the amazing four-hole run with a 10-foot birdie putt on the 206-yard 14th hole that put him at 15-under.

He sewed up the victory with a delicate two-putt from above the ridge on the par-5 16th hole, then made smart shots in closing with pars.

``I knew I needed to make a bit of a run, but I was surprised to shoot 6-under,″ Mickelson said. ``I felt 31 was the number I had to shoot, and to do that I had to birdie more than half of the holes.″

Mickelson helped himself by practicing on the putting green until it was too dark to see on the eve of the final round. He also worked on his stroke on the tile floor of his hotel room, where he noticed in the mirror that his blade was closed.

``Putting was the big thing,″ Mickelson said. ``From 11 to 14, I just saw the line and made some good rolls.″

Appleby, the 25-year-old Australian who won his first PGA Tour event last week at the Honda Classic, showed no signs of losing his form. He made eagle on the par-5 sixth hole from 10 feet to get to 13 under, but then made nine straight pars.

By the time Appleby two-putted from 25 feet for birdie at No. 16, Mickelson was two strokes in front and cruising.

``Getting birdies out of 17 and 18 it a big ask,″ said Appleby, who wound up with a bogey on the last hole after hitting near the rocks guarding the green.

Mark O’Meara, the leading money winner on the tour this year, Uresti and Stewart finished at 12-under 276.

It was the second close call in as many weeks for Stewart, the former PGA and U.S. Open champion who needs a victory to get into the Masters.

Stewart, who gave up a two-shot lead at Honda last week, shared the lead at 13-under with a birdie on No. 13, his sixth of the day. But he missed birdie putts on the next three holes, then hit in the water on No. 18 and took bogey.

It was the first time Mickelson has won in Florida, and he had never even made the cut at Bay Hill in two previous tournaments. He said getting a victory was important with the Masters around the corner.

And winning Arnie’s tournament was even better.

DIVOTS: Tiger Woods shot a 68 and finished in a tie for seventh at 10-under 278. Woods has shot par or better in 17 out of 19 rounds this year. ... Mickelson’s first seven PGA victories came west of the Rockies. His last three wins were at the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas, the World Series of Golf in Ohio and the Bay Hill ... Appleby played the par-5s in 14-under this week. ... Paul Stankowski had two eagles on Sunday. He also had two eagles in the same round during his win at the Hawaiian Open. ... Palmer has mailed in his entry for the U.S. Senior Open. That gives Palmer five commitments _ the Masters, the Senior PGA Championship, the World Seniors Invitational, the Cadillac NFL Golf Classic and the Open. ... Robert Damron, who grew up at Bay Hill Club, finished at 9-under 279. Both his father and brother have won a club championship at Bay Hill.

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