On a course where only big-time golfers win, Phil Mickelson, one of the game’s all-time greats, won his first Open Championship Sunday with a come-from-behind 5-under 66 at Muirfield that will go down as one of the best rounds in major championship history.
The go-for-broke golfer who has suffered many a heartbreak on the grandest of stages is now one major shy (the U.S. Open) of the career grand slam after winning his fifth major and raising the Claret Jug. Mickelson, who finished at -3 for the tournament, will seek to win the career grand slam at next year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where he memorably finished second to Payne Stewart in 1999.
“One of the most memorable rounds of golf I have ever played,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t know if I would develop the game as a complete player to win this championship. I can’t explain the feeling of satisfaction.”
He joins the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els as legends who won the Open Championship at Muirfield. Only two winners who have won the Open at Muirfield are not in the Hall of Fame. Mickelson said this was one of the “proudest” moments of his career.
After winning the Scottish Open last week, Mickelson started Sunday at 2-over par and five shots behind leader Lee Westwood. He birdied two holes on the front nine and, most importantly, more than treaded water as he made the turn at even par. After giving a shot back by bogeying the 10th hole, Mickelson birdied four of the final six four as the leaders were falling off the front page of the leaderboard in some of the toughest golfing conditions of the weekend as the Scottish winds at Muirfield were howling.
After making birdies on 13 and 14 to go 1-under for the tournament, Mickelson won the tournament and entered history on the 16th, 17th, and 18th holes. His tournament will be remembered for his shotmaking on the Muirfield’s legendary 17th hole, but he may have saved his chances of winning the tournament on the 16th hole, when a perfect tee shot went off the green and left him a treacherous up-and-down, which Mickelson managed to make to save par.
On the par-5 17th hole, Mickelson was one of the only players to reach the green in two shots after a daring tee shot and hit a 3-wood from over 300 yards for his second shot that hit a mound and trickled on to the green, leaving him with an eagle putt. Mickelson managed to tap in for birdie.
“Those two shots on 17 were very risky,” Mickelson said.
On the 18th hole, Mickelson, after a perfect tee shot, did not play it safe, firing right at the flag and putting the green-side bunker in play. He promptly gave himself a birdie opportunity after his approach shot barely missed the bunker and got safely onto the green. He rolled in his birdie putt to cap off his 66, triumphantly raised his arms in the air. His caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay was in tears.
“It’s the best I’ve ever putted,” Mickleson said. “It was an incredible day on the greens.”
He shot a 66, tying the low-round for the week, in a round that will go down in history as one of the best rounds in a major on Sunday, on a course that yielded an average of 73. Mickelson said the round was arguably the best in his career. Westwood, who started the day with a two-shot lead, shot a 75 and finished at +1 for the tournament and tied for third with Adam Scott, who experienced heartbreak at last year’s Open, and Ian Poulter. Henrik Stenson finished in second at -1. Tiger Woods finished at +2 for the tournament, failing again to win his 15th major and first since his last major in 2008.
Before the tournament, Mickelson said he had a hate-love relationship with the Open Championship, and he said that it was still a “minute-to-minute” relationship. He said after his 6-iron rolled off the green on the 16th hole, “At that moment, love was not what I felt.”
His feelings quickly changed about Muirfield after his shots on 17 and 18.
“Then I fall back in love with it,” Mickelson said.