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In A Word: MuirPhil

GULLANE, SCOTLAND | Nothing is so sweet as redemption and the road to it, while pocked with potholes and pitfalls, never seems too long once you’ve reached the end of it. The last 12 feet of green at Muirfield’s 18th were simultaneously the longest and shortest of Phil Mickelson’s professional life and when the final birdie fell, the arms that reached for the heavens eventually embraced his caddie and his family and tears fell all around. Nothing will fill the cavernous void of six missed opportunities at his national Open. But Mickelson’s victory Sunday at the Open Championship seals his place as a player who conquered not only a way to play the game previously so foreign to him but, perhaps more importantly, his own lingering self-doubt. Mickelson won his fifth major championship at Muirfield, shooting an improbable 5-under-par 66 that included birdies on his final two holes and four of his last six. He was tied for the lead for the first time in the championship with three holes to play and not only did he not surrender the lead, he expanded it. The final birdie on the final hole gave Mickelson a total of 3-under 281 and a three-shot victory over Henrik Stenson. At the end of the day, Mickelson was the lone player under par for the championship. Granted, this is far from Tom Watson’s five Open titles, but its importance is significant in these times, in which the depth of talent is so great, that Mickelson can win at age 43 when he couldn’t find a way to grasp links golf in years past. Frankly, the Open Championship was the last major Mickelson expected to win. “Today was as good as I could play,” said Mickelson, who now has three Masters, a PGA Championship and Open Championship but still stings from his loss at Merion at the U.S. Open in June. “This is a huge difference emotionally,” he added. “I was so down after the U.S. Open and for me to use this as motivation, as a springboard, I was at a point where it could go either way. You have to be resilient in this game because losing is such a big part of it.” Mickelson admittedly was never a big fan of links golf. He really didn’t believe he could master the nuances and the different green surfaces that success on a links requires. But he won the Scottish Open two weeks ago on the links of Castle Stuart and the victory gave him a jolt of confidence. “The conditions of links golf where the penalty for missed shots is so severe, it took me some time to figure it out,” he said. “The last seven or eight years have been tough. I never thought I would develop the skills it takes to win this championship. This (championship) has been the biggest challenge for me to overcome.” It was never clear, on this cool, cloudy day, as the leaders began Sunday’s final round, whether Muirfield was playing in such a way that someone could come from back in the pack and win the Open. Would there be enough birdies on the unyielding and unrelenting links to allow someone to overtake the leaders? Mickelson found six birdies and, more importantly, he played around Muirfield with only one bogey – in the final round – and this course is simply not built that way. If anyone can empathize with deep disappointment, it would be Mickelson. Right behind would be Lee Westwood, two shots clear of the field when the day began, with the Open his to win. Westwood has never won a major and that void just got a lot wider after Sunday. He gave up the lead around the turn with bogeys that could have been much worse and a failure to birdie the reachable par-5 ninth. And while Mickelson was making his charge, Westwood was in full retreat, with bogeys at the par-3s – Nos. 13 and 16. The championship had been already decided and Mickelson’s name engraved on the Claret Jug while Westwood was still bleeding on the final holes. “I really didn’t pay well enough today,” said Westwood, who shot 75, tied for third and has now finished in the top five 10 times in majors. “I didn’t play badly but I didn’t play great. It’s a tough golf course and you’ve got to have your ‘A’ game. I missed a few shots out there.” The much-anticipated battle that would include Westwood, Tiger Woods and Adam Scott never completely materialized. Woods three-putted twice from long distance in his first four holes. So one more major championship passes with Woods in lagging pursuit of his 15th.


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