After Phil Mickelson’s close call at the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, many assumed (myself included) that given his age (43 now), it was his last shot at finally conquering his career-long battle with links golf.
But, with all of Phil’s glorious wins and disappointing losses, we should’ve known never to count him out to pull off the remarkable — whether it be foolish or thrilling. Naturally, Phil captured the Claret Jug in style and putting on a sublime show on his way to a five-under 66, three-under total.
“I’ve always tried to go out and get it (all my career),” said Phil, who went into Sunday trailing Lee Westwood by five shots. “I don’t want anybody to hand it to me, I want to go out and get it. And today I did.”
Mickelson, who previously only had two top-ten finishes in his 19 starts at the Open, showed tremendous promise on the British Isles last week at Castle Stuart, where, of course, he almost lost the Scottish Open by three-putting from 15 feet on the 72nd hole before winning it in dramatic fashion in a playoff against Branden Grace.
Well, just a week later, Phil gave an even more breathtaking performance. This time, it was to take home the Claret Jug. In Phil-phashion (ugh, sorry, couldn’t help myself!), he birdied four of the last six holes on the back nine on Sunday at Muirfield to add his name to the long list of esteemed champions at this Open venue.
“Just to capture this championship and to be part of the history of this event, and to win The Open Championship, the event I thought would be the hardest, and has been the hardest in my career to capture, to come out on top and to play my best golf, it doesn’t matter how,” said Phil, who ultimately won by three shots after the last few groups were basically bogeying their ways down the leaderboard.
It all came down to his putting — and, as you may recall, Phil said before the tournament began that he had “keyed in” on a “secret” to navigating the fescue greens. Which, he still didn’t exactly reveal, but interesting enough, he credited his phenomenal putting as a crucial factor to his win. “I made a bunch of putts today,” said Phil. “I really putted great. It’s as good as I ever putted in my career. I’ve been fortunately putting like this for quite some time now. Links greens have actually been, I think, the reason why I have not been in contention very often here. More so than some of the ball-striking.
“And I putted these greens phenomenal. Some of the best I’ve ever putted. And today those birdies just kind of happened. They weren’t forced. I just hit good shots. The ball ended up in a spot I could make a putt and I did.”
Just last month, Mickelson made a few late bogeys at Merion to let that evasive U.S. Open win slip from his fingers. Of all six of his runner-up finishes at that major, he called it the most heartbreaking.
“I think that if I’m able to win the U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam, I think that that’s the sign of the complete great player,” he said, laughing. “I’m a leg away. And it’s been a tough leg for me. But I think that’s the sign. I think there’s five players that have done that. And those five players are the greats of the game. You look at them with a different light.
“If I were able to ever win a U.S. Open, and I’m very hopeful that I will, but it has been elusive for me. And yet this championship has been much harder for me to get.”
Now, isn’t that ironic! Mark your calendars for next June at Pinehurst…
Of course, Phil couldn’t have done it without Jim “Bones” Mackay by his side.
“We’ve had a partnership over the last 20-plus years of my career, from the time I turned pro,” he said. “It’s very difficult here to pull clubs because you have three different options on every shot based on the trajectory and whether you’re working it into the wind or with the wind…
“We did a good job together. Bones was exceptional. We sure are enjoying this. This is a great moment for us.”
Not going to lie, when I saw Bones choke up on the 72nd hole, it made me tear up a bit — you can never be reminded enough of why sport is awesome.
*Tiger Woods: He still hasn’t broken his major drought.
*Henrik Stenson: Last week at the Scottish Open, The Stense played with Mickelson in the final group on Sunday and made some bogeys coming-down-the-stretch to end up placing T3. This Sunday, Stenson was much more pleased with the result. He was the only one in the final four groups to shoot under par, posting a one-under 70 to take solo second.
“I’m very pleased with my performance over the week,” he said. “It was just to finish in strong style to keep second on my own and I did that. So, yeah, solid week, very happy with the performance. We’re getting closer. I got two thirds and now a second (at the Open Championship). We all know what we’re longing for.” Stenson has his share of demons and fell into a massive slump a few years ago, which left him ranked 230th in the world at the start of the 2012 season.
*Ian Poulter: What a run he had, huh? Poulter threatened early and with the leaders falling back on the front nine, it looked like he had a chance for a minute or two. Poulter eagled the 9th, then birdied the 10th, 11th and 12th, but a bogey on the 16th basically put an end to his chances for a potential playoff. Still, good effort and he placed T3.
After Poulter finished T25 at the French Open two weeks ago, he decided to switch putters.
“Today was the day where I felt the putter started to work,” said the Ryder Cup star. “Certainly the last few events I felt like I haven’t had that kind of roll where I’ve rolled key putts in at the right time. I’ve worked very hard in the last two weeks to find a putter that I felt very comfortable with.
“And the last time that I burned foot marks in a putting green for as many hours as I practiced would have been back at Birkdale in ’08 when I changed my putter that week and finished second. So I guess I’ve done something very similar again this week. So maybe I need to change my putter every week.”
*Adam Scott: The Aussie posted four bogeys in a row on the back nine on Sunday. Sound familiar? IT WAS LIKE LYTHAM ALL OVER AGAIN. Just kidding. At least this time he’s the reigning Masters Champ and it wasn’t the last four holes. I’m just bitter because I backed him, but I got him each way (top 6), so he wasn’t *completely* worthless! — that last putt for birdie on the 72nd hole to vault him to T3 was huge. Thanks, Scotty!
In all seriousness, Scott started Sunday with a cold putter, but gained momentum after rolling in a birdie on no. 7 and then dropping a 50-footer for another birdie to get back to even par on no. 8. He two-putted from about 20 feet for birdie on no. 9. Had he made the eagle putt, it may have halted Phil’s momentum.
“I think I was just trying to compose myself by 15, after a couple of bogeys it can happen out there.,” said Scott, who shot a final-round one-over 71. “You’ve got to just shake that off. But really over-thought everything on 15, and had to back off a putt there, mid-stroke. And just kind of threw my rhythm. And saw Tiger run it way by and had fast in mind, and I doll-eyed it down there short, and then poor alignment on the next putt, I think. I aimed it too far right and missed.
“At that point, after that one, it was deflation, really, because I could see the scoreboard and your chances at dashed. You’re going to have to finish birdie, eagle, birdie, at that point. Yeah, after 16 I just wanted to stop making bogeys, to be honest with you.”
*Lee Westwood: The 54-hole leader and crowd favorite wasn’t spectacular from the get-go, but he was a gracious loser and still kept his sense of humor after shooting a disappointing four-over 75. Ironically, Westwood putted quite well all day, but his usually superior ballstriking kept him from getting across the line for his first major championship.
“I putted lovely this week, said the 40-year-old Englishman. “I made my fair share. So there was a lot of positives to take out. I didn’t really feel like I had my ‘A’ game. I didn’t feel like I was striking the ball well. I was amazed to be in the lead going into the fourth round, because every time I turned into the wind I was really struggling.”
*Hideki Matsuyama: Despite a one-shot penalty for slow play on Saturday, the 21-year-old Japanese star shot a final-round 70 to finish T6 for his second consecutive top 10 at a major — he placed T10 at the U.S. Open. Look out for this kid!
(AP Photo/Jon Super/Headline caption credit: Christina Kim via Twitter)