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Mickelson: Family, then fairway

Phil Mickelson wanted to hug his wife, Amy.

That's what he remembers thinking as he walked off the 18th green at Augusta National 17 days ago, having just won his third Masters tournament.

The cheers that echoed off the Georgia pines late that golden afternoon were for more than the golf. They were for the spirit of companionship and courage that has marked the Mickelsons' private struggle against Amy's breast cancer.

They were for the most beloved golfer in the game today, for his flash, his style and his smile. They were for the man and his dual marriages, the one with his wife and the one with his adoring public.

In the center of the noise, having won what he says is the most emotionally satisfying victory of his career, Mickelson walked up the hill behind the 18th green and into a hug with his wife. Until a moment before, Mickelson didn't know she was there, unsure if she would make it to the course because of the continuing effects of the treatments for her illness.

With the Masters his to win, Mickelson looked up and there she was.

"It means a lot more when I can share it with Amy and the kids," Mickelson says. "I couldn't wait to give her a hug."

A different kind of girl

Phil met Amy McBride when she was on her way to a 7:40 a.m. class at Arizona State nearly 20 years ago. She lived above a former golf teammate of Mickelson, who had already graduated.

It was a quick, nice-to-meet-you introduction. About two months later, they crossed paths again.

Mickelson asked her out to play tennis, her best sport.

"I showed no mercy," he says. "We had a little wager going and I had to grind out a victory."

She had him at love-love.

"He was in for sure," says Rob Mangini, Mickelson's longtime friend and former roommate. "We were going to play golf in Palm Desert and it was before cell phones.

"We were supposed to meet on I-10 (in California) and he was three hours late. He's never late. Ever."

When Mangini asked what had happened, Mickelson said he'd been up most of the previous night.

"He said, 'I met this girl and we talked all night,'" Mangini says. "I was like uh-oh. He said, 'She's cool. She's different.'"

Talk to the people who've been around Mickelson since before he was famous - which seems forever ago - and they'll tell you he isn't much different from the guy he's always been.

He's richer and more famous, has four major championship trophies, 38 PGA Tour victories, longer hair and his own Gulfstream jet. He's instantly recognizable almost anywhere he goes, immensely popular and has a touch of Elvis about him.

Mickelson has never lost his willingness to be aggressive, whether it's hitting a 6-iron from 207 yards between two trees and over a creek with the Masters on the line, or in business. He absorbs information, whether it's about investments or finding a little something to needle his friends about.

This is, after all, a guy who brings his own ping-pong paddles to team rooms at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.

"I think I can talk some smack once in a while, but I don't even try with him," Jim Furyk says. "It's not worth it. I'm going to get verbally beat down."

But Mickelson, 39, gets as good as he gives.

"He's the same golf dork I've known forever," Mangini says. "Really, though, he's constantly improving himself every way. You can tell in his physique.

"We used to bust on him for being heavy. We'd always say you've won majors, you have a great wife, a great family, your own G5 (jet) but you stay heavy. Now he's in shape. That's tough for us."

For a time on tour, Mickelson had to fight the perception that the guy the world sees on television smiling, tipping his cap to the crowd, wasn't the same guy away from the course.

Time has demonstrated otherwise.

"Everyone sees him and he always has that big grin on his face and he's smiling and waving and trying make sure he's nice to people. People don't always know if it's genuine or not, you hear that a lot," Furyk says.

"Knowing him behind the scenes, he's a very genuine person. The whole family-oriented thing, none of that is an act."

Friend on the bag

Jim "Bones" Mackay has been his caddie since Mickelson turned pro in 1992. He's been there with him when Mickelson couldn't win majors and when he kicked away a U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club (N.Y.) in 2006.

He was there when Mickelson won the Masters in 2004, when he won again in 2006 and when he won less than three weeks ago.

He's known Mickelson to make a special trip to sit in a waiting room when tour player Billy Mayfair had cancer surgery.

He's seen Mickelson spend two extra days in Phoenix in 2006 when the Mackays were having a baby, just to be there with them.

Last month at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla., Mackay saw Mickelson hand a $100 bill to a volunteer and ask her to quietly give it to the little girl who had set up a lemonade stand beside the golf course.

They are a team on the course and friends off it, having shared many meals together, often at Waffle House, which both men like.

"The way he comes across on television is the way he is 365 days a year," Mackay says.

"He's one of the most inclusive people I've ever met."

Before the 2002 British Open at Muirfield, Mickelson decided to make a side trip to St. Andrews.

He made the arrangements then invited Mackay and a friend to join him a day before the championship began. Just guys playing together at the Old Course.

Before the BCS championship football game in Pasadena, Calif., this year, Mickelson bought tickets and took his brother Tim, Mackay and his agent, Steve Loy.

Before the game, they played Riviera Country Club. Three players had caddies. Mickelson carried his own bag for 18 holes.

"It reminds him of growing up as a kid playing golf with his dad," Mackay says.

Sudden change in priorities

When Amy Mickelson was diagnosed with breast cancer last spring, their world changed. A few weeks later, Mickelson's mother, Mary, was also diagnosed with breast cancer.

The long-term prognosis for both is good, though Amy continues to struggle with side effects from her treatment.

Until she made the cross-country trip from their San Diego home to be in Augusta this month, Mickelson's wife and children hadn't been with him at a PGA Tour event in 11 months.

Before then, Amy had been a visible part of the Mickelson brand. With her blonde hair, outgoing personality and perpetual smile, she has a glow to match his.

"They take turns sparking off each other," Mackay says.

Mickelson has adjusted his schedule to make sure he's at home as much as possible with Amy and their three children.

"He's right in the middle of it. He wants it," Mangini says. "He flies a G5 so he can do that and spend all the time with his family that he can."

That means helping with dinner, running carpool to school or dance or karate and doing homework. The goal, Mickelson says, is to have dinner around 6:30 each evening then settle in for some family time, maybe chess, cards or a board game.

On the Thursday after his Masters victory, he took his oldest daughter, Amanda, to a Taylor Swift show, their first father-daughter concert date. Being Mickelson, he stopped at "In-N-Out Burger" on the way.

Mickelson has had a long love affair with the Masters, but early in his career he didn't like the late starting times for the leaders on the weekend. With children, he's come to love them.

This Masters was special because he had traveled so much without his family. For the first time, he played the Wednesday par-3 event with all three children as his caddies. It looked like a Christmas card in April.

On Sunday morning at Augusta, he went with his kids to a coffee shop, played some chess and talked before heading to the course for a warm-up period three hours before his tee time.

He had lunch in the champions locker room with Tiger Woods - "We had some good banter," Mickelson says - then went out and won the Masters, breathing it in as it happened.

Inspired at the Masters

Arriving at Augusta a week earlier, Mickelson was frustrated by his flat season. He felt his game was better than his results had shown. Without his family, he needed inspiration.

He found it driving down Magnolia Lane. When his family arrived on Tuesday night, Mickelson's preparation was complete.

"He didn't hit a good drive off 10 at Augusta on Sunday," Mackay says. "He pulled it and it flew over the gallery into the trees. He turned and said, 'Hey, leading the Masters at the turn on Sunday. Gotta love that.'"

His victory will be remembered for two things: The daring approach shot he hit at the par-5 13th hole that set up a birdie and having Amy, dressed in black and wearing big sunglasses, with the kids waiting for him.

Mickelson had a two-stroke lead over Lee Westwood playing the 72nd hole. After hitting his tee shot into the fairway, he walked down the hill in front of the 18th tee before making the long, happy walk up the fairway.

He remembered playing with Arnold Palmer in 1991 in his first Masters practice round and Palmer pulling him aside, 100 yards off the 18th tee, to tell him the story of 1961. Palmer had a one-stroke lead playing the final hole and stopped to shake the hand of a friend who wanted to congratulate him.

Palmer went on to make a double-bogey at the finishing hole to lose by one stroke.

"I walked past that point and said to myself, 'It's not over,'" Mickelson says.

He didn't know his wife and children were waiting at the top of the hill.

In 2004 when Mickelson finally won his first major championship, Amy, her parents, his parents and some friends were gathered behind the 18th green.

When he made the winning putt and jumped into the April air, "the emotion was volcanic," says T.R. Reinman, Mickelson's media manager.

This year, the same group was gathered in the same spot. When Mickelson walked onto the final green, the silence was broken by the sound of sniffles.

"This was miles from (the first two Masters wins)," says Mackay, who had to look away to fight off tears when he saw Amy Mickelson. "It was about two things - what he and Amy had been through and what it means relative to them being there.

"Looking up and seeing Amy at 18 was something he used to see all the time. She hadn't been there in months. Only they can say how difficult it's been."

They didn't have to say a word.

With tears in his eyes and a sun-reddened smile on his face, Mickelson walked to his wife and hugged her in a deep, lasting embrace that said more than words and trophies.

It said everything.