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Mickelson follows roll model's example

This being Arnie's Place, and with all golf's great ambassador has endured this year, Phil Mickelson daydreamed a bit Sunday morning as he prepared for the final round of the Bay Hill Invitational.

Mickelson glanced at several photos of Arnold Palmer in the Bay Hill locker room, pictured Arnie's bold charge to the lead that made him famous and all but hitched up his trousers for inspiration.

"I tried to emulate the master," he said.

He made a run that would make Palmer proud.

Mickelson played a four-hole stretch of the Bay Hill Club in 5 under par Sunday afternoon to blow by a slew of contenders and win the Bay Hill Invitational.

His back-nine 30 tied a course record, and his 7-under 65 gave him a three-shot victory over Stuart Appleby.

It was the 10th victory of Mickelson's PGA Tour career and gave him more victories than any player at age 26 since Jack Nicklaus (who won 20, including six major championships, by the time he reached that age).

But Mickelson was more thrilled because he won during the week Palmer returned to competitive golf for the first time since January prostate cancer surgery.

"It's more special because it's here at Bay Hill, it's Arnold Palmer's tournament and it's the week he came back," Mickelson said. "That's the reason it's so special."

Mickelson's winning score of 272, 16 under par, was worth $270,000 from the $1.5-million purse, and it was made possible by a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie flurry that began at the 11th hole.

At the time, Mickelson was three shots behind on a wild day that saw many players have a chance to win. At one point, 14 players were within three shots of the lead, including Appleby, Payne Stewart, Mark O'Meara, Davis Love III and third-round leader Omar Uresti.

Stewart appeared poised for a storybook finish and a win that would give him a Masters invitation. He had played 13 holes in 6 under and was tied for the lead. But he couldn't get another birdie and hit his approach into the water at the 18th to finish tied for third with O'Meara (70) and Uresti (71), four shots back.

"It was the only swing where I got quick with an iron all day long," Stewart said. "I came off a 6-iron, and splash. That was my hiccup of the week. (But) I'm very pleased with my golf game. I hit it beautifully today."

Stewart was second a week ago at the Honda Classic to Appleby (69), who gave himself a shot at his second straight PGA Tour win.

But he couldn't keep up with Mickelson, who birdied the 11th with a 7-iron to 12 feet. At the 570-yard par-5 12th, Mickelson hit a driver second shot from 283 yards that came to rest on the fringe, 50 feet from the hole. He drained the putt for an eagle that tied him for the lead.

"I didn't expect to get that," Mickelson said. "It sort of fell in. That really slowed me down, and I was able to see the next two putts a lot more clearly. I just saw the line and made some good rolls."

Mickelson followed with birdies at the 13th and 14th holes, then added another at the 16th.

"At the turn, I did feel a sense of urgency," he said. "I felt 31 was the number I needed to shoot. And to do that, I had to birdie more than half the holes. I needed to get off to a quick start."

For a golfer to be considered a prominent player, victories must come in all shapes and forms, on all kinds of venues, all across the land.

The knock on Mickelson was his inability to take his success on the road. That rap is losing much of its punch.

Before his victory at last year's World Series of Golf in Ohio, all of Mickelson's professional wins had come west of the Mississippi River. Now he has two in the East, one in Florida, and his sites set on some bigger prizes.

"I very much want to win a major championship," he said.

Arnie would like that attitude, too.