Phil Mickelson added himself to the golfing history books as he claimed his third Masters title while Tiger Woods could only ponder his mistakes and wonder what might have been.
Mickelson fired three birdies in four holes starting at the par-3 12th and hit an epic approach at 13, his view of the green blocked by a tree, on the way to a bogey-free 5-under par 67 and a three-stroke victory over Lee Westwood.
The 39-year-old left-hander finished 72 holes on 16-under par 272 with Englishman Westwood settling for second, his best major finish, by a stroke over American Anthony Kim with Woods and South Korean KJ Choi fourth on 277.
The victory adds to Mickelson’s Augusta triumphs in 2004 and 2006, joining the game’s elite and fellow three-time winners Jimmy Demaret, Gary Player, Sam Snead and Nick Faldo.
The legendary Jack Nicklaus has won the Masters six times, with Arnold Palmer and Woods claiming four green jackets each.
A birdie at the 18th capped off a emotional win for Mickelson, whose wife and mother were both diagnosed with breast cancer in the last 18 months.
Mickelson, wearing a pink anti-cancer ribbon on his cap, shared a tearful hug with wife Amy behind the 18th green as the crowd cheered with joy. She had been bed-ridden all week in her first travel to an event in 11 months.
“To win this tournament, it’s the most amazing feeling,” Mickelson said.
“This has been a special day. I’ll look back on this day as very memorable.
“It’s been an emotional year and I’m very proud of my wife and the fight and struggle she’s been through.
“It’s been a difficult year. The last year we’ve been through a lot and it’s been tough. To be on the other end and feel this jubilation is incredible.”
In stark contrast, World number one Woods, in his first event after a five-month hiatus since his secret sex affairs were revealed to the world, ended a roller-coaster few months with another inconsistent round.
The world number one finished four shots off the pace after a final-round 69 which included two eagles, three birdies and five bogeys.
“I finished fourth. Not what I wanted,” Woods said.
“As the week went on, I kept hitting the ball worse. I only enter events to win. I didn’t hit it good enough. Consequently I’m not there.”
Choi began the back-nine drama with his fourth birdie of the day at the 10th to match Mickelson for a share of the lead at 12-under, completing a calm climb to the top of the leaderboard while paired with Woods for the fourth day.
After staying composed while rivals sprayed shots in the pines and water, Choi faltered with bogeys at 13 and 14. A birdie at the 15th kept Choi a threat but he could not gain ground on the leaders.
Kim, who began the day seven strokes off the pace, fired a fourth-round 65 to put himself in the hunt, hitting back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14, making eagle at 15 and another birdie at 16 on the back of some superb putting.
Kim’s round equalled fellow American Nick Watney for the best round of the day.
Adam Scott was the best placed Australian, finishing 1-under over the four days with a final round 71.
Compatriot Nathan Green ended his first trip to Augusta on a high, joining American Ryan Moore in grabbing a hole in one on the 16th.
Mickelson, who finished tied fifth the last two years, eagled the par-5 13th and par-4 14th and barely settled for birdie at the par-5 15th in round three.
In the final round he birdied the 12th for a one-stroke lead but then landed his tee shot at 13 in the trees.
Mickelson’s ball had a path to the green but the shot left him standing behind a tree. Mickelson blasted the ball 205 yards off the pine needles and just three feet from the cup.
While he missed the eagle putt, the birdie put Mickelson two atop Kim and playing partner Westwood. Another birdie at the par-5 15th gave Mickelson a three-stroke edge.
Westwood made a birdie at 17 to keep the pressure on until the final hole but Mickelson birdied the last to complete the emotional triumph.
“Whenever you’ve come as close as I did today there’s a tinge of disappointment,’ said Westwood.
“It’s just a case of persevering and one of these days I get the breaks and I’ll be a major champion hopefully.
“Phil being the champion he is, hit some great shots down the stretch. He’s been through a hard time recently and he deserved a break or two.”
Fred Couples, who won in 1992 and was trying to become the oldest major winner at age 50, fired a 70 and settled for sixth on 279.