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On Sunday evening, after Phil Mickelson had finished what seemed like an endless series of TV and radio interviews, he made it back to the scorer's tent behind the 18th green at Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club, where his caddie, Jim (Bones) MacKay, waited. MacKay and his boss wore big, satisfied grins as they shared a hearty handshake. "Best idea you've ever had, Bones," Mickelson said before heading out to the green for the trophy presentation. ¶ Mickelson had just won the Tour Championship, the fourth and final event of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Won it? More like dominated it. Despite an embarrassing quadruple-bogey 8 on Thursday, Mickelson shot brilliant rounds of 66 and 65 on the weekend for a nine-under 271 to finish three strokes ahead of runner-up Tiger Woods, who didn't leave empty-handed either. Woods ended up atop the standings in the controversial-yet-ultimately-exciting playoffs to take his second FedEx Cup title, which came with a $10 million prize. In other words, Mickelson won the battle but Tiger won the war.
That battle, however, may have long-term implications, thanks to MacKay's brainstorm. Mickelson recently confided to MacKay that he was struggling with his putting stroke, something that had been obvious for months. MacKay suggested that he call Dave Stockton, a two-time PGA Championship winner and the 1991 Ryder Cup captain, who ranks among the best putters in the game's history.
Stockton happened to be in San Diego, where Mickelson lives, last month to work with Michelle Wie at an LPGA tournament. Stockton and Mickelson got together, and in only a couple of sessions they rediscovered the deadly stroke that Mickelson brought to the Tour 17 years ago.
Mickelson used to have a forward press at address—that is, he moved his hands well ahead of the ball to begin his stroke. That's how Stockton putted, too, and he had Mickelson go back to his old setup. "Dave said, 'Nobody will putt as well as you and I because we're leading with the back of our hands,'" Mickelson said. "This is the best way to putt. Once he said that, I went, 'Yeah, that's right.' It's been a night-and-day difference."
The stat of the week at East Lake was Mickelson's 36 one-putt greens during the 37th win of his remarkable career. NBC analyst Johnny Miller was so taken with Mickelson's performance that he picked him as the Tour's player of the year—for 2010.
But before we go there, here are SI's picks for the end-of-2009 awards.
Most Improved The FedEx Cup. Yes, the seasonlong points system is complicated, but during the playoffs the golf was mostly terrific, everyone in the field at East Lake had at least a mathematical shot, and interest was unquestionably high.
Planet Obvious Player of the Year Is there a more predictable award in golf? Why not simply rename the POY award the Tiger Woods Trophy after the nine-time winner and get it over with? Woods may not have won a major in '09, but his six victories were three more than the next biggest winners, Mickelson and Steve Stricker, had this year.
Say Cheese Player of the Year At 42, Stricker enjoyed a career year. In addition to his three wins, he was a runner-up twice and became the first Wisconsin native to reach No. 2 in the World Ranking.
Comeback Player of the Year Woods again, in a race as suspenseful as a Burmese election. As we all know, Woods had reconstructive surgery on his left knee and missed the second half of the '08 season, yet he bounced back with one of his more consistent years.