Archive for July 21st, 2013

Mickelson comes from behind to win British Open

Congratulation to a “Class Act” – Well done

Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY Sports 5:17 p.m. EDT July 21, 2013

GULLANE, Scotland — As he wrapped up his practice session Sunday and started his march to the first tee, Phil Mickelson had a chat with his coach, Butch Harmon, who told his star pupil that even-par or 1 over could win the 142nd edition of the oldest championship in golf.

“I’m going to be better than that,” Mickelson told Harmon despite the fresh breeze blowing in from the nearby hay fields and the Firth of Forth.

“He wasn’t lying,” Harmon said.

LEADERBOARD: 142nd British Open

No he wasn’t. Starting the day at 2 over and five shots behind — and one month after another heartbreaking loss in the U.S. Open — Mickelson made birdie on four of his final six holes on the brutally tough ancient links at Muirfield Golf Club to pull away from a tight pack stacked with the game’s best players to win the fifth major of his career.

HOLE BY HOLE: Mickelson wins it, Tiger fades

Under overcast skies on a course stiffened by 20 days of sunshine that created a culture shock for both locals as well as players, Mickelson fired a final-round 5-under-par 66 — matching the low round for the week — to finish at 3 under and top Henrik Stenson (70) by three.

EMOTIONS: Mickelson shares moment with family

Four back were late-charging Ian Poulter (67), overnight leader Lee Westwood (75) and Masters champion Adam Scott (72), who made four consecutive bogeys on the back nine for the second year in a row in the British Open to cost him dearly.

TIGER WOODS: Major drought continues

Tiger Woods (74) finished in a tie for sixth.

“This is the greatest feeling I’ve had in the game,” said Mickelson, 43 years young who, you recall, went through 42 majors before winning his first in the 2004 Masters. “It’s probably the greatest round of my career.

” … I never knew if I would win this tournament. I hoped, but I never knew it … until about an hour ago.”

He won’t get any arguments that it is his greatest round from Zach Johnson, who said after tying for sixth that he didn’t see a 66 out there. Nor will he get opposition from his wife, Amy, who along with the couple’s three kids, was in step with Mickelson on the back nine. Nor will you get a rebuttal from his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, who had tears in his eyes walking off the 18th and choked up talking about his friend after the round.

“When you work 21 years for a guy it’s pretty cool to see him play the greatest round of golf he’s ever played in the last round of the British Open,” Mackay said. “He hit it great, he putted great. … The guy has done a lot of really cool things on a big stage. He wants to be on the big stage, wants to hit big shots when it matters. Today he did that.”

While Mickelson, who moved to No. 2 in the world with the win, made his breakthrough in the British Open to add the Claret Jug to his three Masters titles and a win in the PGA Championship, world No. 1 Woods remained stuck on 14 majors. He now has made 17 starts in a major since winning his last in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Another maddening weekend when he shot 72-74 hindered his chances.

“I’ve won 14 and in that spell where I haven’t won since Torrey, I’ve been in there. It’s not like I’ve lost my card and not playing out here,” said the four-time winner in 2013. “So I’ve won some tournaments in that stretch and I’ve been in probably about half the majors on the back nine on Sunday with a chance to win during that stretch. I just haven’t done it yet. And hopefully it will be in a few weeks (at the PGA Championship).”

And it wasn’t a merry old time in England. Favorite son Lee Westwood, the overnight leader who was looking for his first major title in 62 starts, failed to hold on to the lead he took to the inward nine. Desperately hoping to join the brilliant British Summer of Sport that has seen Andy Murray crowned the king of Wimbledon, the British and Irish Lions rugby squad win the tour series in Australia, and Chris Froome becoming the second consecutive Brit to win the Tour de France, Westwood stumbled with his usually superb iron play.

“I keep putting myself in contention,” said Westwood, who notched his eighth top-three finish in a major since the start of 2008. “I didn’t do a lot wrong today. I just didn’t do enough right. I know what I’ve got to work on.”

Mickelson hasn’t done much wrong for a while now, in large part because he works so hard on his game despite the steady march of age. He has three wins this season, winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open and last week’s Scottish Open, another triumph on a links course in Scotland which began putting to rest the criticism he heard about his poor play in the cradle of golf.

Despite his record sixth runner-up finish in the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia, which left him stung and hurting, Mickelson felt at ease all week. Despite a course baked to look like a tarp of charred hash browns, running Brickyard fast with pin placements that had players banging their heads in frustration, including Mickelson after the first round.

“You have to be resilient in this game because losing is such a big part of it. And after losing the U.S. Open, it could have easily gone south,” Mickelson said. “But I looked at it and thought I was playing really good golf. I had been playing some of the best in my career. And I didn’t want it to stop me from potential victories this year, and some potential great play. And I’m glad I didn’t, because I worked a little bit harder.”

Mickelson said he had to compose himself and slow his roll down the 17th fairway after hitting what he called the two best shots of the week — 3-woods to get home in two on the par-5. It was then he realized the title was his to lose, and he made sure not to stumble, calmly two-putting for birdie from 45 feet and then adding another birdie from 12 feet on the last.

Clutching the Claret Jug, Mickelson relished in joining an eye-popping list of winners at Muirfield, where members of the World Golf Hall of Fame have won 14 of the 16 Opens hosted by the club, including Gary Player (1959), Jack Nicklaus (1966), Lee Trevino (1972), Tom Watson (1980), Nick Faldo (1987, 1992) and Ernie Els (2002).

He was equally proud of mastering links-style golf a second week in a row, winning his first Open in 20 campaigns.

“The conditions and the penalty for missed shots in the Open Championship are much more severe … and it took me a while to figure it out, I would say,” Mickelson said. “It’s been the last eight or nine years I’ve started playing it more effectively. I always wondered if I would develop the skills needed to win this championship.”

It is the measure of a man, one could say of Mickelson, that despite his enormous success he still searches for what he doesn’t have. Presently, that’s a U.S. Open title to complete a career Grand Slam, won only by Woods, Nicklaus, Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

“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. I’m a leg away. And it’s been a tough leg for me,” Mickelson said with a laugh, alluding to his misfortune in the national championship. “Those five players are the greats of the game. You look at them with a different light. And 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.”

But he’ll keep trying, Mackay said.

“He looks forward. He works hard. How many people are going to build a practice facility in his yard post-40? He wants it,” Mackay said. ” … He’s stronger than he’s ever been, he’s fitter than he’s ever been, and he’s hungrier than he’s ever been. And you can’t understate how much he wants to compete and do well. When he’s 60-something years old he’s going to be on the putting green at Augusta thinking he has a chance. That’s just how he is built.”

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