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Phil continues to paddle Tiger

Tiger Woods has put himself among the greatest legends in golf history but he continues to go belly up in recent head-to-head battles with Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson has won their past five meetings when they have gone head-to-head in the final round of a tournament, including Sunday's come-from-behind victory at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and at the 2009 Masters.

"I am inspired playing with him," four-time major winner Mickelson said. "I think most people are, but he seems to bring out the best in me and the last four or five years, I've played some of my best golf playing with him."

Mickelson and Woods were first paired together in the fourth round of the 1997 PGA Championship, where they both shot 75s. In 30 such career pairings, they are now level at 13-13-4 in who scores better.

"I just seem more focused," Mickelson said. "His level of play is so much greater when he's playing his best than anybody else's. That just forces me to focus on my game more intently, and hit more precise shots."

That's exactly what he did on Sunday at Pebble Beach as Mickelson rallied from a six-shot deficit at the start the day to win by two strokes over runner-up Charlie Wi for his first victory since last April's Houston Open.

The 41-year-old American fired a final-round eight-under par 64 for a 17-under total of 269 while Woods closed with a disappointing three-over 75.

Mickelson is the first to remind people that prior to his recent success over Woods, he was the one getting cuffed. After their first tie at the PGA Championship, Woods won the next three fourth round head-to-heads.

"It has only been the past five years," Mickelson said. "Before, I got spanked pretty good.

"Let's not forget the big picture here. I've been beat up. But the last five years, I've been able to get some of my best golf out when we play together."

No one knew what to expect from Mickelson heading into the Pebble Beach tournament. He got off to a rocky start this season, failing to crack the top 25 in his first three tournaments.

But Mickelson said his game is finally rounding back into shape, especially his putting.

"I haven't played the last year the way I would like to," he said. "I felt like my game was so close heading into the season, and yet my scores didn't reflect how I felt I was playing.

"I put it together this week and especially the final round and it just feels terrfic. It gives me a lot of confidence but also inspires me because I believe now that what I'm doing is correct and that I'm able to play some of my best golf."

Mickelson drained two long par-saving putts on the back nine Sunday to stay in contention for the win.

"I seem to make more and more putts," he said. "I still miss putts, but from the last couple of years where I wasn't making hardly any, now I feel like I'm making a bunch.

"I don't worry about stroke and have not now for the last six weeks. I didn't have any mechanical thoughts, because I had confidence in my ability to roll it. I believed I was going to make these 30 and 40-footers."

By Greg Peakes, AFP

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