On a daunting,historic course that has routinely separated the great golfers from the good,greatness had to come from behind on Sunday.
Phil Mickelson started the final round of the British Open five shots behind the leader,Lee Westwood. After nine holes,Mickelson was still three shots behind the barrel-chested Englishman with the mirrored sunglasses and so much to prove.
But Mickelson,at age 43,is now more than one of the very finest players of his generation. He is a great links golfer,too.
Born and raised in the target golf mecca of Southern California,where loft and length and backspin rule,Mickelson has gradually acquired the skills and self-control required to become an honorary Scotsman with a club in hand.
Hate-love, he said last week of his relationship with links golf. I used to hate it,and now I love it.
On Sunday,Muirfield,a classic course that plays very hard to get,loved Mickelson back. With the many other contenders faltering or failing to ignite,including Mickelsons longtime American rival Tiger Woods,Mickelson slowly gathered great momentum. He made birdies on all three of Muirfields par-5 holes for a round of five-under-par 66 and closed with a flourish that gave him a three-stroke victory over Henrik Stenson with a three-under total of 281.
His wife,Amy,said that when he left for the course in the morning on Sunday he told her,Im going to go bring home a claret jug. He ended up doing just that.
I just could not be more proud to be your champion, said Mickelson at the awards ceremony,the claret jug in his grasp. I never knew in my career if Id be equipped,if I would have the shots,if I would have the opportunity to win a tournament here. And to do it,to play some of the best golf,probably the best round of my career,and break through and capture this claret jug is probably the most fulfilling moment of my career,because it was something I wasnt sure Id ever be able to do.
The merion Near-miss
It was the fifth major championship for Mickelson,who won the Masters in 2004,2006 and 2010 and the PGA Championship in 2005. He has won three of the four major tournaments. The only major title he lacks is the US Open,where he has finished second a record six times.
He was second at the US Open again last month at Merion Golf Cub,but instead of letting that latest and perhaps greatest disappointment send him into a downward spiral of doubt and regret,Mickelson got away from it all with his family at the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky,Montana. There was fly fishing. There was trap shooting,white-water rafting and zip-lining.
That was clearly the right way to heal in a hurry,and when Mickelson arrived in Scotland two weeks ago,he was quickly back on target: winning the first links tournament of his long career at the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart in Inverness.
He has won two links tournaments in eight days and become the first man in history to win the Scottish Open and the British Open in consecutive weeks.
Well,certainly the range of emotions I feel are as far apart as possible in the last month, Mickelson said. But you have to be resilient in this game. You have to accept losses and use it as motivation as opposed to letting it defeat you. Youve got to use it as motivation to work harder and come back strong,and these last couple of weeks,these last couple of months,Ive played some of the best golf of my career.
It was also the 43rd win of his PGA Tour career. The guy who once couldnt win the big one now has five majors in the last nine years it puts him alongside Byron Nelson and Seve Ballesteros in the all-time list.
Woodss major flop
Woods,meanwhile,now has gone 17 majors without winning,and that pursuit of Jack Nicklaus and his benchmark of 18 majors Woods is stuck on 14 doesnt look any closer. He three-putted twice in four holes and looked like just another contender on this Sunday.
He attributed his round to not getting the right pace on the greens,which he said were progressively slower.
While Woods,Westwood,Hunter Mahan and Adam Scott certainly did not rise to the occasion,Mickelson undeniably did,making six birdies and just one bogey. There were many clutch shots,many flourishes,but perhaps the most decisive stroke came on the brutally tough 14th hole,where Mickelson sank a 20-foot putt for birdie to go to one under par and move into a tie for second place with Westwood.
He birdied the par-5 17th after reaching the green in two shots,shouting Go,baby! after his second. He then birdied the 18th from 12 feet to give himself room to breathe and serious cause to start celebrating.
Muirfield simply does not tolerate one-Slam wonders. The most recent champions here have been Ernie Els,Nick Faldo,Tom Watson,Lee Trevino,Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. They are all in the Hall of Fame,and so is Mickelson,after being inducted last year.
As improbable as it might have once seemed of a man who hated links golf,Mickelson now fits right in.
And when it was all over on Sunday night,he was asked if the name Mickelson had any Scottish roots. I dooont know, Mickelson said in respectable Scottish burr. Maybe a wee bit.
Birdie on 72nd gives Kapur a 71,tied 73rd
Shiv Kapur ensured he would have something to cheer about when he left the 142nd Open Championships at Muirfield as he fired a closing birdie in an even par round of 71 on Sunday. Kapurs final round 71,following up on 68,77 and 83 on the first three days gave him a total of 15-over 299.
I started Thursday on such a high with the adrenaline rush. Yesterday was a bit of a disappointment when I got off to a rough start but I finished with my head held high today, said Kapur.
Starting the day with two birdies inside first six holes,Kapur had a total of four birdies and as many bogeys. The birdie on the 18th today felt good, said Kapur. After having no birdies on third day,he had four on the final day and it included a 15-footer on the last.
There is a lot of positives I will take from this event. The front nine on the first day showed me that I could play a higher level,but Saturday also showed me that I have plenty to learn, added Kapur. Kapurs showing on the first day got American Jason Dufner tweeting. -6 on the front nine last group off,u got to be shivving me!!?!
Of his experience at the event,Kapur said,It is easy to pick out the best moment. It had to be when I saw Kapur leading in the best tournament in the world.