ABOUT an hour after he had quelled the tempest that can rage between his temples and birdied Nos. 16 and 17 and won, Phil Mickelson stood grinning yesterday morning on a veranda at Riviera Country Club.
He was also signing serially for a throng that kept blurting its adoration.
As the golf freaks and beer nuts and other fanatics walked away sated and the crowd thinned out, a young man held up towards Mickelson (right) a paper plate covered with an upside-down paper plate.
Mickelson opened the contraption, and for a moment it seemed someone had brought him a hot dog and some potato salad.
After Mickelson signed the cover plate and handed it back, though, the contents turned out to be his divot from No. 8 in the fourth round of the Northern Trust Open, which just went to show a fresh reality around Hogan's Alley.
This guy's such a king at Riveira nowadays that the people crave even his dirt.
'I love this golf course,' Mickelson said, and indeed he must, right down to the tiniest kikuyu.
With his stormy closing-72 and his 15-under-par and his one-shot upending of fleeting front-runner Steve Stricker, Mickelson became the seventh golfer to defend a title successfully at Riviera. He hiked his PGA Tour victories to a dizzying 35. Heck, he even shooed some two-year-old ghouls.
For a guy who once couldn't really play this place, Mickelson's reign here has become so totalitarian that if only he'd made par on the 72nd hole in 2007 instead of sighing into a playoff he would lose to Charles Howell III, he would have three consecutive titles.
Instead he became merely the first player since Ben Hogan in 1946-48 to go runner-up, winner, winner.
'Well, I don't think I've emulated his style of how he played Riviera,' Mickelson said. 'He seemed to drive it into the fairway a little bit more and what have you.'
Indeed, Mickelson has become such a mayor of Pacific Palisades that he can win even when playing partner Fred Couples could say with inarguable accuracy, 'I mean, he didn't play well today.'
He can win even when suffering a nine-shot swing from a seven-shot lead to a two-shot deficit versus a generally steady hand like Stricker.
He can win even when the leaderboard pulsates all day with artists such as old Couples, young Andres Romero and the brilliant K.J. Choi, all of whom finished one behind Stricker and two behind Mickelson.
He can win at Riviera even when he starts a year resembling some hopeful mid-rankings straggler with a missed cut, a tie for 42nd and a tie for 55th.
Anymore, he can't even blow it even when he blows it.
Starting the day four shots up at 16-under-par after his celestial 62 on Saturday, Mickelson eagled No. 1 for a whopping third straight day and looked all set to rid the place of middling suspense.
Then his drives began spraying and his putts on the back nine began lipping out.
After five bogeys and nine pars among 14 holes, he'd fallen from his perch, joined such day-long nibblers as Couples and Rory Sabbatini and Choi at 13-under par, and waned two shots behind Stricker, who'd rocketed to 15-under.
So Mickelson approached No. 16 with a new approach. He took all his recent tutelage from coach Butch Harmon and all his arcane concerns about his swing and just chucked them down the mental garbage disposal.
'I just blocked everything out, looked at the pin and swung to it,' he said. 'Didn't think about anything swing-wise, just looked at my target and swung and forgot about all the technical stuff that I had been working on.
'Tuesday morning, when I get together with Butch, we'll get back to the technical side. But it's difficult to play at a high level thinking about mechanics.
'So those last four holes just kind of looked at the target and swung.'
Clearly it's such a simple game, so he struck his nine-iron on the par-three No. 16 some 152 yards to within four feet and made birdie to re-access 14-under-par.
At right about the time he hit his favourite drive of the tournament on No. 17, 323 yards down the fairway, Stricker finished bogeying No. 18, a hole he'd parred the other three days.
Mickelson's six-foot birdie putt for the lead on No. 17 had that emphatic look. His three-wood drive on No. 18 stayed true and killed ghosts.
And his six-foot putt on to win never looked bound for anywhere but the drain.
And all that remained would be taking another trophy and playing Evita from the balcony to those who handed him hats and programmes. And dirt.