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Mickelson Magic At Mighty Muirfield

GULLANE, SCOTLAND | When Phil Mickelson had done all he could, when he’d birdied four of the last six holes at mighty Muirfield to win the Open Championship in a way only the great ones can, he walked into the arms of his longtime caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay. The tears had started for Mackay back in the 18th fairway, after Mickelson had stung a 6-iron shot 12 feet past the hole, setting up the final birdie in a closing 66 that both of them said was the best round of the 43-year-old’s career. The gray air was full of noise and emotion, the cheers thundering through the windblown chill, and it was almost too much. With his arm around Mackay’s shoulder, Mickelson said, “I did it.” At a place where the giants have won before him – Nicklaus, Watson, Trevino, Player and Faldo among them – Mickelson did more than win the Claret Jug. He changed his legacy. Mickelson could have won another Masters or PGA and that would have been impressive but not like this. Even winning that elusive U.S. Open, the one that’s kicked him in the gut so many times, may not have enhanced Mickelson’s place in history the way what happened Sunday at Muirfield ultimately will. This was the championship Mickelson couldn’t win. His game was too long and loose for links golf, his aggressive style too stubborn, his capacity for self-destruction too close to the surface. Maybe that was true once, but it’s not not true anymore. Mickelson, who won the Scottish Open three hours north of Muirfield a week earlier, was brilliant on Sunday when he had to be. That’s what separates the best of the best. He made just one bogey on a wickedly difficult and dangerous course where third-round leader Lee Westwood shot 75 and Tiger Woods shot 74. When it came time for someone – and he was just one star in a galaxy of them on the scoreboard – to grab the Claret Jug, Mickelson did. It was Mickelson’s fifth major championship victory. Only 13 players have won more and he’s not done. In fact, Mickelson seems to be in his prime. Before teeing off Sunday, Mickelson – who started the final round at 2-over par and five behind Westwood – listened to swing coach Butch Harmon tell him that even or 1-under par would be enough to win the championship. “He said, ‘I’m going to be better than that,’ “Harmon said. “He wasn’t lying.” That’s because Mickelson sees rainbows. He sees a sliver of light between two trees on the 13th hole at Augusta National with The Masters on the line. He sees Muirfield, mean and menacing, and turns it into a playground. When Mickelson birdied the 13th and 14th holes, he had a share of the lead with Westwood and Adam Scott. When they began to spit out bogeys, Mickelson didn’t waver. He had a good par save at the 15th and a great one at the 16th where he center-cut a bending six-footer for par. At the par-5 17th, Mickelson hit “a pair of bullets” with his 3-wood, his new best friend in his golf bag, setting up a two-putt birdie that gave him the lead. The closing birdie was like a champagne toast. “The guy’s done a lot of really cool things on really big stages,” Mackay said. “He wants it and he wants to hit the shots when it matters. Today, he did that.” Tiger Woods is the most important and successful golfer of this generation but Mickelson is the most loved. It’s because of how he plays, the way we’d like to imagine ourselves playing, daring the course and the game to beat us. It’s because of the way he smiles and the way the pulls us in rather than pushes us away. If golf is his talent, Mickelson’s gift is his style. It’s our good fortune that he came along when he did and that, at age 43, he may be better than ever.


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