There's a sense of irony that Phil Mickelson would win the major he was thought to like the least before the major he loves the most. Yet, it's about to happen.
Mickelson shot a final round of 5-under 66, tying the best score of the week, at Muirfield to take a 3-shot clubhouse lead over Lee Westwood and Adam Scott.
The four-time, soon to be five-time, major champion had a pair of birdies on the outer portion of the Muirfield beltway, then came in with four birdies in the final six holes, including on the final two holes, to take a commanding lead in extremely difficult scoring conditions.
However, it was perhaps a par save at the par-3 16th that set up Mickelson to have his name engraved on the Claret Jug.
After a tee shot he thought was perfect, his ball landed just short of the proper level and spun off the green and 40 yards shy of his intended target. Mickelson, however, found a way to get up-and-down for par on one of the most trying holes of the week -- one the left-hander even called "funky" early in the week.
Then at the par-5 17th, Mickelson, who did not carry a driver this week, found the green in two shots from 302 yards with a brilliantly struck 3-wood and a fortunate bounce from the firm ground. He made birdie, continuing to gain strokes on par while the field continued to lose them.
On the home hole, Mickelson rode his momentum to an astounding approach from the middle of the fairway and 206 yards away to inside of 10 feet. When the ticklish right-to-left slider found the bottom of the cup, Mickelson raised his arms in the air with emotion, knowing he had likely accomplished the once unthinkable: an Open Championship victory.
Afterward, Mickelson called the 5-under final round "one of the best rounds of [his] life."
Before this week, Mickelson has only posted two top-10 finishes in his career at the Open, but they were top-three finishes: tied for second at Royal St. George's in 2011 and third alone, just out of a playoff with Ernie Els and eventual winner Todd Hamilton, in 2004.
Now Mickelson is one win away from the career Grand Slam, needing, of course, the U.S. Open to complete it. Next year, the U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst No. 2, where Mickelson earned the first of a record six runner-up finishes in that championship.
Discussing that dubious distinction with ESPN, Mickelson said, "If six second-place finishes counted as a win, I'd have the career Grand Slam by now."
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