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Give the green jacket to Augusta National

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Put the textile factory on overtime. Tell the tailor to get his needles sharp, bring in an extra supply of thread and prepare for a rush order. There's work to be done.

Required will be a green jacket, size 365 extra large

What could be more appropriate after this sparkling Sunday in April?

Phil Mickelson gets first call on the treasured coat, symbolic of the Masters' champion, but the course spread over Augusta National Golf Club's 365 acres deserves a piece of the swag.

The layout that some of golf's treasured champions claimed had been ruined with its added length joined the winner in sharing the spotlight in the 70th Masters.

After these past four days, the claims from Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer sound absurd.

Remember the rhetoric? With the changes, thrilling finishes would be passe, run-away winners would be more likely and only the longest hitters need apply for contention.

Those statements sound silly now, in the wake of a Sunday afternoon that featured an all-star leader board, a mixture of bombers and bunter striving for first place and nail-biting battles until the late stages. The struggle did not go to the final green, but the number in the chase and their varying strengths scream for attention.

Historians insist the Masters does not begin until the back nine on Sunday, but they're wrong. The tournament "started" long before - thanks to the changes that both challenged the world's best golfers and also yielded to quality play.

Competition heated up. Mickelson tapped in his final putt from a couple of inches to post a 72nd hole bogey and still won by two strokes. But do not be fooled; this tournament featured everything anyone could want in terms of competition.

Rain that delayed play Saturday and forced the leaders to spend a grueling Sunday in search of the year's first major golf championship did indeed prove to be a blessing. The game's best took their place among the leaders, some feisty upstarts joined the chase and an old-timer named Fred Couples gave them a battle to the very end.

Mark this down: At 4:10 p.m., 17 players stood within three strokes of the lead.

That's not incredible. That's impossible.

Yet there they were, and drama like that does not unfold on just any old golf course. The layout that can produce a bunched field like that is very special.

"Look at the leader board; most of the best players in the world are there," said former Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, now 54 and the tournament's feel-good story for two days. "Every part of your game is examined."

The guy who passed the final exam donned the green jacket for the second time in three years. Before he did, however, the tournament "got pretty exciting out there," Couples said. "For a player to win on this course now, (every part of his game) has to click."

Intentionally or not, he described what a major championship test should be, and perhaps now more than ever, Augusta National fit the definition.

A busy leader board. To understand how special this Sunday afternoon developed, consider the start. Only four strokes separated golf's Big Five - Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els - and four of them finished in the top 10.

Although Els fell back, players within four strokes of the lead at 5:10 p.m. owned 20 major championships. At one point, four golfers shared the lead, before Chad Campbell boosted the number to five.

Eventually, Mickelson pulled away and Couples, his playing partner, said, "I watched a great player win his second Masters."

Still, the theory a lengthened Augusta National would eliminate wild leader board changes took a beating Sunday.

Tournament officials moved some tees forward a bit, and names danced up and down the leaderboard. Mickelson never was worse than tied for first in the afternoon, but Jose Maria Olazabal came from nowhere, then suffered a crippling bogey. Miguel Angel Jimenez soared and sank. Woods never harnessed his putting stroke and a couple of short putts that got away cost Couples.

Every player could point to what might have been. Woods outdrove partner Tim Clark by 30 or more yards on every hole, yet Clark finished second and Woods tied for third.

"You just have to play your own game," said Clark, who, like Olazabal, found ways to offset their lack of distance off the tee.

Playing with the biggest names in golf on one of the game's grandest stages inspired Clark.

"Obviously, people see my name up there and they either think I'm Darren Clarke or, you know, wonder what I'm doing up there," he said laughing.

All afternoon, the course challenged them all - the bombers and bunters, the big names and those not so well known - and competition to appreciate unfolded.

Augusta National has lost its charm? Perish the thought. Sunday emphatically proved otherwise.

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