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Mickelson had never lost a PGA Tour event when leading by more than four shots going into the final round, but what appeared to be his biggest collapse turned into a stunning recovery.
First, he began hitting 3-wood off the tee to gain some confidence. And when he unloaded a tee shot down the 15th fairway, the comeback was under way.
Mickelson led by as many as five shots when he opened with an eagle for the third straight day, although it might have been the first sign of a struggle to come. The hole was in the middle toward the back, easy to access, yet Mickelson had to make a 40-foot putt.
The next two holes were more obvious.
He had trouble with the sticky kikuya grass, muffing a chip on the second hole to make bogey, and with his driver, hooking his tee shot on the third so badly that it struck a eucalyptus tree 170 yards off the tee, leading to another bogey.
And yet, no one in the final group took advantage.
Couples opened with an eagle from 3 feet, and his wedge on the third hole checked up 3 feet from the cup. He made birdie, but it was a nervous stroke, and he badly missed a 3-foot par putt on the fourth, a 8-foot birdie on the sixth and a 6-foot birdie on the seventh.
Romero went at every flag, but couldn't make a putt unless it was for par -- or bogey. The 27-year-old Argentine twice made stunning par saves, on the fifth and eighth, to stay in the hunt. But he hooked his tee shot out of bounds on the 12th, ending his hopes.
Stricker made three birdies in a four-hole stretch around the turn, with a 6-footer at No. 12 giving him the lead for the first time all week. He never had another good look at birdie until the 17th, and that was the one he badly needed to make.
"I didn't know what the lead was at the time, but I knew I had the lead," he said.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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